COP17: The final day

2011-12-14 00:00

A second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol and a global commitment to a future legally binding climate regime were seen as the markers that turned COP17 into a historic milestone.

“A successful outcome of an African cop with an African host is something we can be proud of,” said the speaker for the African Group, Tosi Panu Panu, from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

COP17 also made history by being the longest ever – overrunning by 30 hours.

Another significant outcome was the full implementation of the package to support developing nations, agreed last year at COP16 in Cancun, Mexico, including the setting up of the operating structure of the Green Climate Fund. However apart from a handful of commitments there was still no clear indication of how it will be funded.

But the deal – between the EU and India - that made the Durban outcome possible was only struck within hours of the end of the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban over the last two weeks.

Not everyone, either inside or outside the ICC, was necessarily happy with the outcome, even EU negotiator Connie Hedegaard admitted the “process was filled with compromises to get consensus.”

Various delegates and NGOs (see story on page?) also expressed concern that the measures were still not enough to keep global warming below the necessary 2 degrees Centigrade average believed necessary by scientists to prevent accelerated and disastrous climate change.

That COP17 achieved an outcome at all was largely thanks to two women, South Africa’s COP president, Maite Nkoana Mashabane, minister of International Relations and Cooperation, and the European Union’s Connie Hedegaard who drove the EU’s plan to get a collective buy in to roadmap leading to a legally binding agreement by 2015 that would be implemented by 2020.

The final drama played out in the early hours of yesterday morning. During an informal plenary stock taking session Mashabane urged delegates to gain consensus, saying that failure to do so would endanger not only the work of the last two weeks of COP17 but that of the whole of last year that had gone into producing the over 200 pages of documentation under consideration. “Let us not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good,” she said.

On Friday negotiations had lasted until about 10pm when it was decided that rather than work through the night delegates would return next day when new draft texts would be circulated. These were made available mid-morning on Saturday and intense behind closed doors negotiations began behind closed doors.

An informal plenary stocktaking was initially scheduled for 3pm but this was postponed and the plenary finally gathered for the first time on Saturday at 6.45pm.

Mashabane rallied the troops telling them the package represented a “strong outcome”.

“Adopt these documents as the Durban outcome,” she said. “The world is looking to you, the world awaits.”

Not all the world was happy. During the plenary dealing with the Kyoto Protocol document the Venezuelan Ambassador Claudia Salerno raised objections saying the process favoured the developed countries. She attacked the EU for fielding a plan that merely reflected their internal legislation and was also low on ambition with regard to carbon emission pledges.

However Papua New Guinea, Grenada and Kenya, supported the EU position and were joined by the Brazil’s Andre Correa do Lago. “We don’t have a good text, the best possible text, but …this text is good enough to move to plenary … this is a different political moment that requires moving forward. We have to accept that we can’t achieve a major breakthrough.”

During the plenary dealing with Long Term Cooperative Action (LCA) and which included the EU’s roadmap, Salerno vehemently objected and said the developing countries had to do more and this reflected “world upside down”.

Noting it was late and everyone was tired she said there was a danger frustrated and fatigued delegates would accepts what was before them “rather than what the planet really requires … Is this what the world is waiting for? I don’t think so.”

She later caused a stir when she stood on her chair to voice further objections.

There was another informal stock take in the early hours of Sunday morning during which Mashabane indicated the EU, the Basic Countries (Brazil, South Africa, China and India), Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis), U.S., Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (Alba), and other groupings had reached consensus. “We are now more than 24 hours into injury time,” she said and requested delegates put the good of the planet above their national interests.

Shortly after this intervention the Indian environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, looked set to derail the outcome based on the EU plan saying the document they are being asked to approve wasn’t strong enough to ensure a legal binding agreement. Hedegaard appealed to Mashabane to broker a discussion and the main parties involved went into a huddle. Cheers and applause from the group just after 3am indicated agreement had been reached. The insertion of the phrase “an agreed outcome with legal force” proved the clincher.

Subsequently all documents proposed were adopted.

Though tired and weary, att the press conference that followed shortly after the end of the conference, Mashabane and Christiana Figureres, executive secretary, UNFCCC Secretariat, were clearly buoyant with success. “There could be no better Christmas gift,” said Mashabane, “not for (me), but for the voiceless and the downtrodden and the women in the world, particularly those in Africa striving to feed their families.”

“We made history,” she said. “Countries put aside national interests to give hope to the less privileged.”

Mashabane also explained that countries such as Japan, Canada and Russia, who would not sign up for a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol, and the U.S., who had never ratified it, would be part of the broader framework along with everyone else.

The length of the second commitment period – five or eight years – would be decided at next year’s COP in Qatar.

The EU’s Marcin Korolec said the Durban outcome was the “most historic moment in COP history since 1995 when the Berlin Mandate led to the Kyoto Protocol of 1997.”

Hedegaard said that the EU strategy had worked but that it was only early in the second week when Brazil and the U.S. indicated interest in coming on board that “we saw things start to move.”

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