COP17 Durban UN climate talks Dec 2

2:01am GMT: Remember 1.5C and 350 parts per million? Whatever happened to these “safe” limits of temperature and carbon dioxide concentration?

Of course it doesn’t help that we’re already up to 389 ppm and that many scientists say we’ll hit 1.5C even if we never burn another bucket of coal.

But I’m always surprised that the big NGOs don’t try harder to slip these benchmarks into their texts. Many of the most vulnerable countries have no choice but to hold out for them, however despairing.

All credit, therefore, to BBC’s Richard Black for spotting that the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) have made aggressive representations to the Durban conference to respect these targets in determining the level of ambition for emissions reductions.

Furthermore, these two groups are clearly fed up with the talk of delaying a comprehensive agreement until 2020. They want discussions to start right away with a deadline of just 12 months to settle differences.

I’m not convinced that this is a new story. The submissions may have been made in the opening statements of parties to the conference on Tuesday. The official Earth Negotiations Bulletin published on the same day gives a less full account than that of the Third World Network released only yesterday. My guess is that caught Richard Black’s attention.

9:38am GMT: I understand that Angela Merkel has just finished a speech to the German parliament in which she announced that members of the Euro currency zone will work towards fiscal union. This involves surrendering sovereignty over national tax rates and borrowing.

What on earth has this got to do with UN talks on climate change in Durban?

I suggest that this decision will strengthen the argument of those who say that the “pledge and review” approach to cutting emissions is doomed to fail.

When the Eurozone was established, member countries pledged not to allow annual expenditure to exceed revenue by more than 3%. It worked for a while but, as soon as the going got tough, even the big boys like France and Germany said they might just have to break the rules for a teeny while. The smaller players lost control altogether.

In fiscal union, the Eurozone will be bound by treaty to agree tax and borrowing levels and stick to them.

Insert carbon emissions for fiscal expenditure and you have the same choice. The Americans favour a carbonzone doomed to fail whilst advocates of the Kyoto Protocol and a legally binding agreement know what will work in practice.

10:43am GMT: We’re now into the press briefing by the Climate Action Network.

Keya Chatterjee of WWF US has confirmed news that the Alliance of Small Island States and the Least Developed Countries have put forward a text which proposes to get a legally binding agreement ready within the next 12 months.

She contrasts this with the US stance which is not to bother about an agreement until after 2020.

The NGO network will be pressing for a proper sense of urgency in response to the proposal by the most vulnerable countries.

11:01am GMT: in the Climate Action Network briefing a journalist asked if the NGOs have a compromise position they would support to bridge gap between US post 2020 and vulnerable countries 2012 position (for a binding agreement)…

Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace Germany said Yes!

He outlined a timetable starting with a 2nd period of commitment of 5 years under the Kyoto Protocol running in parallel with negotiations for a comprehensive binding agreement to be agreed by end of 2015 and in force by end 2017. He said:

it’s pretty clear that some parties, specifically African countries, will not be happy to leave the conference without that

“We need to get the attention of heads of state,” he said.

11:34am GMT: Martin Khor, Director of the South Centre, is talking at the press briefing of the Third World Network. He’s focusing on the elephant in the Durban room:

the central issue here is whether certain developing countries are no longer developing and have to take on the same obligations as developed countries as a condition of the US to do something

Martin reports that he heard the US delegation say yesterday that it would require “symmetrical obligation” as the condition for joining a legally binding agreement.

His response is to remind us of the league table of per capita carbon dioxide emissions. China’s emissions are 5.5 tonnes per capita per annum which is 77th out of 218 countries, Brazil is 122nd and India is 138th with just 1.5 tonnes per capita.

Martin’s core point is that it is impossible for these countries to engage in emissions reduction of comparable ambition to the US without denying their people the right to living standards of comparable quality to the US.

12:07pm GMT: In their briefing just concluded, the Third World Network has supported its case – that the US and other rich countries are asking too much of the so-called “major emitters” like India and China – by repeated reference to a study by the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Lim Li Lin stressed how important are the results of this June 2011 paper which concludes that the pledges put forward by developing countries exceed those on offer by the historic polluters.

I cannot imagine a more formidable panel to discuss the Kyoto Protocol and its future than Chee Yoke Ling, Lim Li Lin and Martin Khor – all of them veterans of the legal dotted lines of these conferences.

Putting these three in the same room is akin to creating the atomic nucleus of the 15,000 ordinary mortals inside a UN climate conference. No wonder that not a single journalist dared to ask a question when it was over.

If I had the luxury of snatching a ten minute coffee-break in the Durban corridors and the indulgence of seeking out two ladies for a little genial banter, Ms Chee and Ms Lim would be the dream team.

But on second thoughts maybe not. I would freeze out of fear that casual mention of the Kyoto Protocol would turn my sugar lump into gelignite.

1:21pm GMT:  Today the US briefing is all about negotiations with the EU on its “new” proposal to press all parties into discussions now to agree their eventual full participation in a legally binding agreement on emissions reductions. Jonathan Pershing, deputy special envoy for climate change and head of the US delegation said:

some countries want it; some don’t want it. The major emerging economies have indicated strong resistance to taking on legally binding obligations. In that case the US is also unable to consider legally binding obligations

Which means there haven’t yet been any discussions in Durban with the EU about its roadmap, as Pershing conceded.

The US head was back on top form, at his most convincing in persuading us to believe that the Cancun agreements represent a major breakthrough on climate change. “We reject the notion that action is dependent on legalities,” he said. More progress can be made by focusing on what is politically possible.

As for his famous remark that there are infinitely many paths to reach the goal of stabilising the climate, Pershing seems unrepentent, despite the criticism it has attracted. Indeed this comes across as something of a pet subject on which his thoughts rattle off at such speed and duration that I lost the thread. Sorry about that.


this post was first published by OneWorld UK