Durban Diary: Dispatch from the Ground

As UN climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, go into their final week, IPS got a quick update from Janet Redman, co-director of IPS’s Sustainable Energy & Economy Network, who is in Durban at talks.

Janet spoke to us from the corner of a crowded conference room at the summit about the current state of the negotiations:

Interviewer: It’s recently been announced that 2010 saw the most dramatic upswing in greenhouse gas output on record. How are folks in Durban reacting to this?

People not pollutersJanet Redman: Greenhouse gas emissions rose between 2009 and 2010 by a record-breaking 6 percent in one year. There’s a real sense of urgency here in Durban because of the news that emissions are growing at such an alarming rate.

But unfortunately that sense of urgency is not translating to action by the biggest historical polluters here.

In particular, what’s happened this week is a blame game that’s now shifted to the big developing countries. Developing economies still have incredibly high rates of poverty, even in countries that are considered “emerging economies” such as India and China. The EU and the U.S. are pegging the potential failure to reach a climate deal here in Durban on those two countries.

But we don’t need a new deal – or what some are calling a new mandate. What we really need out of this next week is to see countries agree to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, and to see a completion of the Bali action plan, which was a set of commitments and obligations that developing countries said they would take on with the support of developed countries and a commitment by the United States to take actions comparable to those of other wealthy northern countries. This was the compromise world leaders struck because the U.S. said it would never, ever sign the Kyoto Protocol.

The big news is that if developed countries are willing to agree to fulfill their own obligations that already exist in the convention and in this Bali action plan, then developing countries are considering negotiating internationally-binding activities that could take effect in 2020. That’s a pretty big deal. So basically, China’s already doing more than the U.S. is on renewable energy, but they’re even saying, we’re willing to take on binding commitments in the near future, as long as you show us good faith that you’re willing to do what you said you would do in Bali in 2007.

Interviewer: It sounds like there’s a lot of discussion on just renewing what’s already been agreed upon. Do you think that renewing or approving these already-negotiated terms would be enough?

JR: Well, in some sense it’s a first step toward a bigger change. One of the things that we’re hearing here is a call for a new mandate. I think that’s a real mistake because there are two existing mandates right now.

Again, the Kyoto Protocol is one mandate, and the Bali action plan is another mandate. The convention has set that up very clearly, so the idea of asking for a new mandate here in Durban actually undermines existing commitments that are science-based that have been agreed to already in the past 20 years since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was established.

So I think having movement on agreements would be enough to set the negotiations on a really positive track for subsequent periods after the second period of the Kyoto Protocol, but also on a positive track in terms of implementing the convention which of course is what this is all about.

Interviewer: There’s been discussion on possible threats to climate financing for developing countries. Are there any further observations that you’d like to share about that?

JR: Last week we were really concerned about the U.S. obstructing talks on opening the doors of the Green Climate Fund. As of earlier today, it looks like almost every country is satisfied with moving forward on the Fund, and building the Board that will put more meat on the bones of the GCF over the next year.

What’s still incredibly frightening is the blatant cooptation of the Green Climate Fund by the private sector, with unabashed support from the U.S. and the UK. If the financial sector and multinational corporations have direct access to the Fund and can bypass sovereign national governments, then we have a real potential for serious problems with democratic control, transparency, the application of social and environmental safeguards and basic standards, and the Fund’s effectiveness in achieving climate goals.

Finally, even if we get the Fund here in Durban it may be nothing more than an empty shell. The U.S. is still blocking a conversation on long term finance – both the scale that should be delivered on and the sources of where that money should come from. A text released last night did mention innovative sources of finance, but an outcome here in Durban needs to be much more specific about how countries will make that real. One thing they can do right now is commit to a work plan for implementing some of the leading proposals, such as a financial transaction tax.

Interviewer: Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to me, Janet!

JR: Thank you!