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Closing the deal

Dec 11 2011 13:05 Reuters

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Durban - UN climate change talks in Durban, South Africa, agreed a package of measures early on Sunday that would eventually force all the world's polluters to take legally binding action to slow the pace of global changing.

After more than two weeks of intense talks, some 190 countries agreed to four main elements - a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, the design of a Green Climate Fund and a mandate to get all countries in 2015 to sign a deal that would force them to cut emissions no later than 2020, as well as a workplan for next year.

Details of the main points agreed on follow below. The final text will not be publicly available for several days, a UN spokesperson said.

Extension of the Kyoto Protocol

After the failure of Copenhagen in 2009 to come up with a new, internationally-binding deal, and only incremental progress a year later in Cancun, a partial legal vacuum had loomed as drafting a new UN treaty is extremely time-consuming.

Sunday's deal extends Kyoto, whose first phase of emissions cuts run from 2008 to the end of 2012. The second commitment period will run from January 1 2013 until the end of 2017.

There was agreement on extending Kyoto for five years, but lawyers are going to have to work out how to align this with existing EU legislation.

Legal form

Delegates agreed to start negotiations for a new legally binding treaty to be decided by 2015 and to come into force by 2020.

The process for doing so, called the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, would "develop a new protocol, another legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force that will be applicable to all Parties to the UN climate convention," under a working group.

The exact nature of what "legal instrument" or "agreed outcome" has not yet been decided.

Ambition

Delegates decided the process towards developing a new legal instrument would "raise levels of ambition" in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

At the request of the EU and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the delegates agreed to launch a work plan to identify options for closing the "ambition gap" between countries' current emissions reduction pledges for 2020 and the goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

However, the Durban negotiations did not manage to extend the emissions cut pledges made in both Copenhagen in 2009 and 2010 in Cancun.

Transparency

The Durban Package brings into operation new arrangements for making more transparent the actions taken by both developed and developing countries to address their emissions. This is a key measure for building trust between parties.

Finance

Poor nations are most in need of finance to help pay for adapting to global warming and introducing low emission energy and industrial processes.

Against the backdrop of a sovereign debt crisis, developed nations are also ill-placed to commit money beyond short-term financing that runs out at the end of next year.

The Durban talks made headway on agreeing the design of Green Climate Fund to channel up to $100 billion a year by 2020 to poorer nations, but achieved little on establishing where the money will come from to fill it.

A proposal last week to generate cash from charging international shipping for the carbon emissions it generates faced such opposition it did not survive in the final text.

New market mechanisms

Talks agreed to define new market mechanisms under a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, but pushed forward a decision to develop rules for them until next year.

Delegates decided the mechanisms would operate under the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties and "bear in mind different circumstances of developed and developing countries".

The EU wants any new market mechanisms to cut greenhouse gas emissions outside of Kyoto anchored in international law, in order to avoid fragmentation of the international carbon market.

Parties will now work on developing a framework for new mechanisms over the next 12 months with a view to making recommendations at a summit in Qatar at the end of 2012.

The rules must ensure environmental integrity of new markets, seek to avoid double counting and ensure that a net decrease in CO2 emissions is achieved.

Carbon capture and storage

The Durban talks ended six years of debate over whether and how the technology of carbon capture and storage could qualify for carbon offsets under the Clean Development Mechanism.

The Kyoto scheme rewards governments or companies who invest in clean energy projects in developing countries with carbon credits, which they can trade and sell for profit.

The new rules force project developers to put five percent of the carbon credits earned in a reserve, to be awarded to them only after site monitors have proved that no carbon dioxide has leaked from the underground store 20 years after the end of the crediting period.

Reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD)

Delegates agreed to consider private funding and market-based mechanisms as options to finance the programme on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, paving the way for billions of dollars of private investment.

Details will be discussed in the course of next year and it may still take years until the programme takes off at a big scale.

Joint implementation

The Durban meeting failed to breathe new life into Kyoto's Joint Implementation (JI) mechanism, as negotiators once again dodged a decision on whether to allow emission reduction projects to earn carbon credits under the scheme beyond 2012.

Like in Cancun last year, delegates agreed to delay a decision on whether to decouple the future of JI from that of Kyoto until next year's talks.

The postponement caused concern among some negotiators that a few nations with vast Kyoto emissions right inventories, would as a precaution ramp up offset issuance ahead of that. 

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