• United Nations's Climate Change Conference in Durban Makes Incremental Progress
  • February 10, 2012
  • Law Firm: Jones Day - Washington Office
  • The 17th Conference of the Parties ("COP-17") to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ("UNFCC") concluded in Durban, South Africa on December 11, 2011 after a 36-hour extension to the negotiations. While some observers were disappointed with the lack of detail and extended timing of some of the final compromises, COP-17 advanced several key initiatives from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, 2009 Copenhagen Accord, and 2010 Cancun Agreement.

    First, COP-17 established an Ad Hoc Working Group on Durban Platform for Enhanced Mitigation to develop "a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The third option—"an agreed outcome with legal force"—was added after intense late-breaking negotiations, and some speculate that the language could result in a final agreement that would be weaker than a protocol or other legal instrument.

    In a break from the traditional divide between developed and developing countries over the extent to which the latter should be forced to limit their emissions, the Platform calls for "the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response." The Platform expresses concern over the significant gap between emissions reduction pledges to date and the degree of reduction the UNFCC believes is necessary. It also reconfirms the long-term goal of holding the increase in global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius or 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

    Second, the parties at Durbin agreed that the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, set to expire in 2012, will continue into a second commitment period beginning January 1, 2013. Under the agreement, parties to this second commitment will turn economy-wide targets into quantified emission limitation or reduction objectives and submit them for review by a UNFCC working group by May 1, 2012. In a setback for proponents, however, Canada, Russia, and Japan, three of the larger nations that joined the Kyoto Protocol, declined to join the second commitment, arguing that because the Protocol does not cover heavy emitters such as China and India, it now addresses only about 15 percent to 20 percent of the world's emissions.

    Finally, COP-17 established implementation instruments and revisions for the 2009 Cancun Agreement, the most significant being approval of the governing instrument for that Agreement's Green Climate Fund. A Green Climate Fund Board now is tasked with making the fund operational as quickly as possible. The Board must establish a "transparent no-objection procedure to be conducted through national designated authorities" for fund approvals that are consistent with national climate strategies and plans and "a country driven approach." The Board must also "provide for effective direct and indirect public and private sector financing by the Green Climate Fund."