Since the failure of COP15 in Copenhagen two years ago, UN climate summits are greeted with far less fanfare and a great deal more cynicism. So the final outcome of the COP17 talks in Durban came as something of an unexpected surprise as the US, China and India agreed to be included in a legal framework to reduce carbon emissions from 2020. However, the details still remain to be agreed upon – and if past climate negotiations have proved anything, it is that the devil is very definitely in the detail.
Commenting after the summit, Stig Schjølset, head of EU carbon analysis at Thomson Reuters Point Carbon, pointed out that the agreement of the US, China and India to be included in a future deal marked a something of a sea change in climate negotiations: “The relationship between the US and China had hampered the progress of global climate talks for several years because neither party had been willing to be the first to move. Now, however, for the first time, they are moving ahead together towards legally-binding reduction targets for all major emitters from 2020. How ambitious those targets will be remains to be seen, but the fact that all countries have agreed to this process is a major leap forward.
Talks on the new deal will begin next year with the aim of agreeing it in 2015. It will then come into effect in 2020. But some commentators have warned that this timeline should not be taken for granted: “Even though all major emitters are included this time, there is a risk that this roadmap, like the Bali roadmap before it, ultimately amounts to very little. We expect the negotiations on future targets to be very difficult and it will be challenging to agree on ambitious targets for the post-2020 period within the next few years”, said Arne Eik, head of crediting mechanisms and emerging carbon markets, Thomson Reuters Point Carbon.
Elsewhere at the summit, it was agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol with a second commitment period lasting to 2017, a move that seems not to have gone down well in some quarters as Canada announced it would become the first country to formally withdraw from the protocol. In a statement, Peter Hunt, the Canadian minister for environment, said that it “does not represent a way forward for Canada”, which had been facing fines of C$ 13.6 billion for failing to meet its commitments. Canada’s annual emissions have increased by roughly a third since 1990.