Durban, South Africa — As Ministers and Heads of State descend upon the city of Durban to join delegates from 194 nations at the 17th Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, there is one key number that should be top of mind, and top of agenda: 2015. That is the year by which a comprehensive climate treaty must be achieved, to avert the devastating consequences of runaway climate change in a world that warms past two degrees Celsius, said Conservation International (CI) on the dawn of week two.
"The issues are complex and the path to agreement is anything but quick or direct, however we urge Parties, in the strongest possible terms, to prioritize a mandate for a comprehensive climate agreement by 2015 before the final gavel drops," said Dr. Fred Boltz, Senior Vice President for Global Initiatives at Conservation International, an observer to the talks. "This is not an arbitrary number and this is not a political chip to be bargained. This is the year when, according to the best available science, we must turn talk into action if we want to avoid terrible costs in life and treasure in the short and long term future."
A mandate for a binding agreement that holds countries accountable for emissions reductions, with respect for common but differentiated responsibilities, is not the only measure of success for Parties meeting this week. Other critical tasks on the table include resolution on the future of the Kyoto Protocol and decisions on financing, such as operationalization of the Green Climate Fund, as well as the operationalization of an Adaptation committee to direct action and funding for adaptation activities, particularly in those countries most vulnerable to climate change.
"The question of the Kyoto Protocol's future is certainly a challenging hurdle to overcome, but we cannot let the challenge of negotiating a meaningful compromise become a roadblock to progress on emissions reductions," said Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Vice President for Conservation Policy at CI and former environment minister for Costa Rica. "It is not perfect, but in its fifteen years, the countries that accepted targets under the Protocol saw their emissions fall. In this sense it worked."
"We need to begin moving key elements of the Protocol, such as emission reduction targets and a compliance mechanism that holds countries responsible for those targets, into a larger agreement." said Rebecca Chacko, Senior Director for Climate Policy at CI. "That is one of the things we are working to do under the Long-term Cooperative Agreement negotiations. Whatever the final decision looks like, we urgently need to see a broader suite of countries committing to elements that have proven successful in the past."
THE WEEK THAT WAS: GRADING PROGRESS ON REDD+
With a week of long discussions, tough negotiations, and drafts on the more technical aspects of climate action complete, the mid-way point of COP17 has achieved a modest degree of progress on important elements of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Forest Degradation and Deforestation). What follows is the review of these elements by Conservation International's climate policy team:
Overall Review on REDD+ decisions: Progress on Reference Levels; Disappointment on safeguards - By the end of week one, the UNFCCC provided rules for how REDD+ should be implemented. These decisions will help to reduce the likeliness of piecemeal approaches under disparate mechanisms. However, the process to achieve clear, consistent commonality continues to move slowly; while countries forge ahead with REDD+ action. In this sense, the pace of talks is holding back consistent, comprehensive REDD+ action. Hope remains for decisions this week on financing, which CI believes should include public, market, and innovative sources to leverage the estimated $25-35 billion/year needed to bring it to scale, and these decisions will have major impacts on the pace of progress.
- Reference levels: Decisions in Durban established the importance of transparency, as well as a technical review process to make sure the reference levels are technically sound. This is positive, and maintains the tone of Cancun that the historical average of emissions rates should be the basis of a country's reference level. Parties also agreed to allow adjustments for "national circumstances", providing opportunities for nations with high-forest cover and low-deforestation rates (HFLDs) to participate in REDD+, a good move but one which will require close monitoring in future. Grade: B+
- Safeguards: On the issue of safeguards for biodiversity and communities where REDD activities take place (Social and Environmental Safeguards), concerns that are critical to Conservation International, decisions in Durban did little to advance the Cancun Agreement but did not backslide. Although they did not specify the means, Parties agreed to share information on safeguards at the international level, indicating that it should be both transparent and consistent so that funders and others can easily understand the information (impacts on people and biodiversity). However, they only specified it happen every four years, failing to note when the first exchange would even take place. That means, it could be many years before a first round of reporting, leaving the door open to potentially negative impacts on people or biodiversity going unreported at the international level until after REDD+ is well underway in a country. Grade: C
- Monitoring and MRV: On the issues of monitoring and Measuring, Reporting and Verification of emissions reductions (MRV) expectations were low given the lack of progress made on this issue all year. Parties once again postponed decisions on MRV until next year, leaving countries that are implementing REDD+ now left with little guidance on approaches. Still, it would have been worse to have a weak decision on monitoring and MRV–one that allows all sorts of creative, unreliable monitoring and measuring. Countries need clear consistent guidance on this as soon as possible, and it is encouraging that this is on the agenda next year. Grade: Incomplete
"Some naysayers characterized the summit as dead-on-arrival and said it would fall apart on the first day. That did not happen," said Rodriguez. "Yes the progress on REDD+ has been conservative, but it has been progress all the same. We are still moving forward, and that is a major accomplishment given the complexities and game-changing nature of this promising new mechanism to mitigate and adapt to climate change."
Boltz added, "Of course the most relevant and important issues are yet to be defined by this COP and there is still a strong possibility that negotiations break down. We remain hopeful, however, that the political will seeded in Cancun will sprout roots here in Durban, and deliver meaningful agreement that demonstrates that this process of inclusion and consensus can work. It must. We do not have time to talk in endless circles about what we will do, someday. That day is upon us. The time for action is now."
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Conservation International (CI) — Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the long term well-being of people. Founded in 1987, CI has headquarters in the Washington, DC area, and 900 employees working in nearly 25 countries on four continents, plus 1,000+ partners around the world. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @ConservationOrg