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COP17 – The Durban Platform is not an oil rig!

In the previous blog in this series we discussed some of the terminology surrounding COP17, and the background to the conference. We’ll now look at the outcomes of the conference. Whether the outcomes were good or bad depend on who you talk to. Some called them a breakthrough, while others said the conference was a failure. We’ll talk about what these outcomes actually mean in the next blog.

One of the challenges for COP17 was to secure a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol – something that would commit countries to specified reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. While the actual commitments of the countries to reduce emissions were not achieved, a pathway for a universal legally binding instrument for ALL countries – including rich developed as well as developing countries – has been accepted. In the first commitment period, not all countries signed on to the protocol. This pathway has therefore been dubbed The Durban Platform, as it is a package of agreements, including the second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, which can be built upon in the years to come. According to the Durban Platform, binding emission reduction targets shall be decided on not later than 2015 and come into force in 2020. These agreements intend to cover 100% of emissions, the Kyoto Protocol in 2011 covered only 15% of emissions. While the second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol was not secured, it has not been ignored or discarded.

The Durban Platform forms a comprehensive set of decisions, reflecting a move to substance in the global climate negotiations. They include:

- An approach to how our response to climate change is formulated was agreed and included allocating responsibilities, defining equity and an increased focus on adaptation (preparing for the effects of climate change) and on climate risk (loss and damage brought about by climate change).
– Agreements on how the Green Climate Fund will be managed; on a Technology Executive Committee to lead the Climate Technology Centre; an Adaptation Committee, as well as how we will calculate our mitigation ambition.
– An agreement on the Kyoto Protocol Second Commitment Period, from 1 February 2013, until either 2018 or 2020.
– The commitments will be negotiated by 2015 and will be adopted at COP21.
– Substantial detail on the mitigation system (how we will aim to curb climate change) as well as transparency issues (so that all countries can clearly see the extent of others work under the UNFCCC).
– Terms of Reference for The (first) Periodic Review 2013-2015 about achieved emission reductions agreed.
– A high level agreement that found a way forward through key political divides that were obstructing the negotiations.
– A way to bring about a legally enforceable agreement that would bind ALL parties which would mean 100% of emissions being taken into account.
– The establishment of an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action to identify and explore options to close the ambition gap. These options should go beyond current pledges to increase mitigation effort and develop a pathway consistent with limiting warming to 2°C.

The Durban Platform could therefore potentially replace the Kyoto Protocol as a new climate agreement with the important difference that it will be binding for ALL countries. However, there was a big unfinished task in Durban. There was no agreement on climate protection targets to limit global temperature rise to 2°C (which for South Africa would mean 3-5°C depending on where you are in the country). To make sure the temperature rise is a maximum of 2°C, the worldwide emissions need to decrease from 2015 onwards. The Ad Hoc Working Group was put in place to come up with a plan for new options to close the gap. If we continue at the current rate, the temperature could rise between 3 and 5°C by 2100. The big polluters – US, Japan, Russia and Canada are seen as the main culprits in resisting the level of temperature rise.

So with all these commitment periods, reviews, working groups and committees, what does the Durban Platform and the outcomes of COP17 actually mean? In the next blog post in this series we will explore what the outcomes of COP17 mean for the UNFCCC process and for the planet.

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