Blog Post

Panama Climate Talks Signal What’s Ahead in Durban

Oct 13, 2011 | Lynann Butkiewicz

The last major climate conference before UN Conference of the Parties 17 (COP17) begins next month wrapped up in Panama on Friday. Decisions and unresolved issues from the conference are indicators of what might be expected in Durban.

The main concern is the extension of the Kyoto Protocol. Australia and Norway have drafted a plan that would include all major emitters, excluding least-developed countries, leading to a legally binding deal in 2015. The plan includes:

· Standardizing targets at Durban, including 2020 emissions reduction targets.

· Formalizing and updating targets annually until 2015, ensuring transparency in emissions reductions.

· In 2012, updating targets and establishing rules for international verification.

· In 2013–2014, national reporting of emissions reductions.

· In 2015, a legally binding deal that includes developed country targets and actions by developing countries.

The European Union, seen as one of the only actors that could save the Kyoto Protocol, said that conditions for a second phase of the Protocol need to include all major emitters, such as the United States, China, and India.

“What’s the point of keeping something alive if you’re alone there? There must be more from the 89 percent,” EU Environment Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told Reuters.

Meanwhile, the United States (which did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol) remained firm in its stance that it will not sign an agreement unless all major economies are included in reductions.

"We do not see a meeting of the minds on these issues," U.S. Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing said. "We do not want to launch negotiations on an agreement we would not be able to join."

India, which backs the extension of the Kyoto Protocol as it stands, has long expressed concern over an agreement that requires legally binding commitments from developing countries, throwing a wrench into ideas for a new commitment period. (However, as I have said previously, this is probably only a negotiating tactic since India is reducing emissions domestically.)

Not all parties may be needed to move forward, however. UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres said that the United Nations may be able to extend the Kyoto Protocol excluding those who refuse to sign it, such as Canada, Japan, and Russia. But even that vote will require an agreement from all countries attending the conference in Durban.

Still, there are some areas where Figueres said “good progress” is being made on the technical issues. The draft text for the confirmation of the Adaptation Committee has been teed up for completion in Durban. Details of where to host and how to conduct the selection process of the implementation arm of the Technology Executive Committee are also set to be finalized in Durban, leading the Technology Mechanism to become fully operational by 2012.

In regard to finance, fast-track finance for adaptation and mitigation in developing countries now has a clearer picture of committed funds and how they are being dispersed. Long-term financing—the commitments for 2020— has draft text that will also be ready for Durban.