COP17 Durban UN climate talks Dec 6

1:16am GMT: Greenpeace, WWF and CARE have added their considerable weight to accusations that (as they put it): “UN Forest Protection Scheme Heading in Wrong Direction.”

This refers to the current state of play with REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) and in particular the “safeguards” that are supposed to protect the rights of forest people.

Bearing out the conclusion we reached here yesterday, the NGOs warn:

The outcome on REDD safeguards is a step backwards from what was agreed in Cancun last year, which itself was far short of what could have been agreed in Copenhagen (two years ago)

Forest people need protection because REDD will release cash in return for preventing deforestation. That sounds simple enough but, where there’s cash, there’s trouble.

Representatives of indigenous groups are holding a press conference later this morning.

1:29am GMT: I’m unable at this stage to pick up any media coverage of the briefing given by the Canadian environment minister, Peter Kent, on his arrival in Durban for the climate talks.

I understand that he did not confirm or deny rumours that Canada will give notice to quit the Kyoto Protocol before the end of the current commitment period. It is no secret that Canada will have nothing to do with a second period.

Listen out for sweeteners in the shape of Canada’s contribution to the 2010-2012 period of $30 billion of “fast start finance” for developing countries. It sounds as though the amount could be $1.2 billion.

1:53am GMT: Greenpeace continues to have banner trouble in South Africa.

Last month a daring stunt at the Eskom power station building site at Kusile was slightly devalued due to difficulty in getting the banner aligned for the camera angle.

On Sunday at the Protea Edward Hotel on the Durban beachfront, it looks as though the banner never made it out of the rucksack before the activists were arrested.

The hotel was hosting the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, a tempting target for Greenpeace who are promoting a new report exposing how big corporations are holding up the fight against climate change.

2:11am GMT: McKibben speaks: at last the great communicator trains his firepower on the Durban climate talks.

He forced the Obama administration to shift its ground on the Keystone XL pipeline. Can McKibben work the magic on the UN climate process?

There’s a typically grabbing opening sentence:

The most important piece of news yesterday, this week, this month, and this year was a new set of statistics released yesterday by the Global Carbon Project

This refers to a report which informs us that global carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 increased by 5.9% and that atmospheric concentration has risen to 389 parts per million. The latter data in particular cannot be welcome news to the founder of

The odd thing is that these results are not news at all – they have been in the public domain from other sources for some weeks.

Never mind; McKibben delivers his verdict in great soundbites:

It means, in diplomatic terms, that the endless talks underway in Durban should be more important than ever–they should be the focus of a planetary population desperate to figure out how it’s going to survive the century.

and much more worth reading.

2:27am GMT: Turning to the core business of the negotiators in the Durban Convention Centre yesterday, the 143-page consolidated draft text was examined in a plenary session.

Few kind words were spoken about it, but this is not too unusual at this stage. Be thankful that there is any document at all for the ministers to start work on today. The Chair of the plenary said that a second draft would be forthcoming on Wednesday.

Be thankful too that the Kyoto Protocol survives for the moment. One or two key observers are saying that some sort of grudging second commitment period may be squeezed out of the process. As Martin Khor of Third World Network puts it:

A quick death is now unlikely, given the protests it will generate and the bad name this will give the perpetrators. Putting it on life support is the alternative.

Martin also tells us what we don’t want to hear:

The original agreed idea, that all developed counties would collectively cut their emissions by a target (25-40% by 2020) … all but gone, not even mentioned in draft conclusions of the conference

That target was of course in line with the recommendations by scientists, the approach laid down in the 1992 Convention document.

3:00am GMT: Overnight media reports on the Durban climate talks tie themselves in knots over China’s five conditions for joining the European roadmap. The EU calls for a mandate for all parties to join a legally binding agreement on emissions reductions at a date to be agreed.

Each condition announced by the head of the delegation, Xie Zhenhua, has behaved like one of those Chinese proverbs that gets lost in translation. Make that five proverbs and you have some difficulty.

None of these reports (and mine was no exception) proved able to pin down exactly what were the conditions, or even if there were five rather than four.

It doesn’t make any difference for now. The EU, China (and later on, Brazil) sound positive whilst the US and India sound negative. Todd Stern, head of the US delegation, said he would discuss it all with China today. But it’s plain that he doesn’t believe there is substance in the offer.

One report suggests that he might be right. The AP piece by Arthur Max in Huffington Post claims to be on the inside track with the EU delegation:

Despite public declarations it would participate in a legally binding agreement in the future, China unequivocally told the EU it would not accept binding targets for itself, said the delegate, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations were still in an early phase

Meanwhile, China continues to be the hub around which this conference spins.

12:12pm GMT; The most powerful statement in this morning’s briefing from the Climate Action Network (the NGO umbrella organization) emerged through the unlikely combination of a South African Bishop questioned by a journalist from Turkey.

The US is a nation of great faith, of Christian commitment. We find it extraordinary that they are behaving like this. We find it immoral. Environmental destruction is a sin against God. We say to faith groups in the US – you’ve got to recognise your responsibilities to combat climate change.

These were the words of Bishop Geoff Davies, Executive Director of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute. His presentation earlier in the briefing was effectively a powerful restatement of the enlightened vision of the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change which this Conference of Parties is supposed to be observing. He said:

I call on political leaders to put moral principles before economics. The well-being of planet and people comes before financial considerations. I can only say that is it immoral of nations to say they are going to continue emitting carbon until temperature rises beyond the limits.

5:37pm GMT: Today’s high level segment of the Durban climate talks was outflanked in significance by a press briefing that took place immediately before the formal opening session in the presence of the UN Secretary-General.

I’m pretty confident that this was the first time that ministers from the BASIC countries (China, India, Brazil, South Africa) have spoken to the media at a UN climate conference.

The fact that the briefing replaced one scheduled by the United States may have accounted for the uncharacteristically jaunty mood of Xie Zhenhua. At one point, I felt sure he was going to tell a joke.

Such weighty symbolism left the content struggling to keep up. The BASIC group is not a negotiating party here – they are the increasingly uneasy bedfellows of a sprawling collection of developing countries known as G77+China. Words were carefully chosen, to put it mildly (I’ll do a separate post about the Indian minister who did not follow this decorum).

Will the pressures of the Durban conference push this elite group into disagreement with each other? or with their wider partners? This was the thrust of the journalists but the South African chair allowed six questions to be asked in sequence. This ensured that most of them were forgotten by the time the ministers gave their answers.

I’m sure there is solidarity with the poorest countries on the imperative of a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol. But will the likes of Bangladesh and Kenya be content to experience the ravages of climate change for another decade while these big emitters (for that is what they are) duck out of any binding commitments or higher ambition for emissions reductions?

6:19pm GMT: Jayanthi Natarajan, Indian Minister for Environment and Forests, has been previewed as the bad cop amongst the leading protagonists of the Durban climate talks. (I mean as in “good cop, bad cop” – not a bad Conference of Parties!).

The minister has wasted no time in living up to the billing. Her tough words at today’s briefing by BASIC countries will send a shudder through the well-oiled machinery of compromise that powers these UN events.

What the European Union wants to hear is words of comfort that one day very soon India will sign up to its idea of a roadmap for a legally binding agreement on emissions reductions. Ms Natarajan is not in the mood:

some countries have projected the question of a legally binding agreement in future as a panacea for climate change. This question confuses implementation with ambition and is therefore not quite correct….for a very large number of poor in the developing world, the world has not changed at all…. (they) cannot be expected to be legally bound to reduce emissions when they make no emissions at all.

No mention that Indian companies own Jaguar and much of the UK’s capacity for steel production. In essence, India does not want to talk about a long term agreement until after 2015, placing it closest to the US position.

Not that Ms Natarajan is suggesting neglect of low carbon development on India’s part:

Developing countries should not be asked to make a payment every time an existing obligation becomes due on the part of developed countries. We have already walked the extra mile and in fact are doing far more than what many of our partners in developed world are doing.

Over to you Connie.

7:27pm GMT: I seem doomed in my efforts to get a strong handle on what’s happening in negotiations on the financing of REDD+ (the proposed approach to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). Durban is heaving with forest experts but those involved inside the talks are having a bad-blog day or three.

Last night’s press briefing by indigenous groups doesn’t appear to have happened. Having missed this afternoon’s Global Witness briefing which had promised what I wanted, I turned to the UN’s recording only to find that the sound system failed for much of the session.

It’s important because deforestation causes over 15% of total greenhouse gas emissions. And also because some estimates of the cost of REDD+ (which will compensate developing countries for not cutting down their forests) suggest that the Green Climate Fund needs to get off to a flying start to satisfy this sector alone.

Within the dodgy soundtrack, I detected the following from Nils Hermann Ranum of Rainforest Foundation Norway.

First, that we should expect some agreement on REDD finance, perhaps proposing a mixture of public and private sources.

And second, that there may or may not be a reference to market-based carbon trading mechanisms. Apparently Brazil is opposed to this, aligning itself somewhat unusually with Bolivia.

It’s still too vague, perhaps for good reason. I’m dropping hints here to my colleagues to try to get their hands on a forests insider for interview.


this post was first published by OneWorld UK