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Volume 6 Issue 01| January 2012



Original Forum

Readers' Forum
Life Beyond Forty: Challenges for the nation in coming times
--Ziauddin Choudhury

Keeping Democracy Alive

-- Interview with Prof Dr Rounaq Jahan

Duty of the State

---- Arafat Hosen Khan
Tipaimukh Dam and Indian Hydropolitics
-- Rashid Askari

Social Business: Turning Capitalism on its Head
-- Zaidi Sattar
What Does the European Sovereign Debt Crisis Mean for Us?
-- Nofel Wahid
Going Diasporic in One's Own Country
-- Rifat Munim

Photo Feature
The Maze of Metal

Green Business to Reduce Green House Gas

-- Isteak Ahammed

Durban Climate Conference:
LDCs Tryst with Destiny
--Quamrul Islam Chowdhury

Bangladesh Armed Forces: 40 Years on

-- Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury

The Missing Fifth Book

-- Jyoti Rahman
Maulana Bhashani: The Majloom Jononeta
-- M. Waheeduzzaman Manik


Forum Home


Durban Climate Conference: LDCs Tryst with Destiny

QUAMRUL ISLAM CHOWDHURY provides a detailed evaluation of the climate conference held last month.

Durban Climate Conference can be described as Least Developed Countries' (LDCs) tryst with destiny! Whether the 17th United Nations Climate Change Conference at Durban delivered a breakthrough on the international community's response to climate change or started a new clash of paradigms will certainly be debated for the next couple of years.

From 48 LDCs' perspective, given all odds, downturns and nay sayings, however, in the second largest meeting of its kind, the negotiations advanced, at times crossing swords of words, in a more or less balanced fashion, following the implementation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 1992 and it's landmark Kyoto Protocol of 1997, the Bali Action Plan, 2007 and the Cancun Agreements, 2010. The outcomes included a decision by 195 Parties to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, and no later than 2015. President of COP17 and CMP7 host South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said, "What we have achieved in Durban will play a central role in saving tomorrow, today."

The responses to the deal reached by 195 countries at the climate change conference in Durban last month range from praising the compromise as a “historic agreement” as described by the COP President herself to accusing it of giving in to polluters at the expense of the planet by some others.

But the fact is that the deal has all countries agreeing to work towards a legally binding emissions reduction by 2015, to be implemented by 2020. It was forged in the last hours of the COP17 and CMP7 after around a 40-hour extension beyond the scheduled closing on December 9, amid fears of a complete breakdown of the talks, and ended at dawn of December 11 amid clapping and table thumping by ministers and delegates.

From the perspective of the LDCs, the compromise agreement also saved the Kyoto Protocol -- the only legally binding arrangement applying to developed countries -- with Europe and a few others signalling a commitment to a second round of pledges after 2012.

Progress was also made on the “Cancún decisions”: the green climate fund was set up along with initial pledges, executive board was formed and long term finance standing committee was setup; national adaptation plans process for LDCs was concretised, adaptation committee was set up to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate change; and the terms of reference were set for a technology centre and network, which will help transfer technology to developing countries.

Again, from the LDCs' perspective, these decisions are a major feat, given the stalemate between countries in the last days of the Durban conference. The main outcome of the over two-week Durban conference was the launching of a new round of negotiations known as the Durban Platform aimed at a new regime under UNFCCC and involving all countries. The Parties are now to decide whether it would be a protocol or other legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC.

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The draft decision on this was provided at an informal plenary late on the night of Saturday, December 10 long after the Conference was scheduled to end and it was given to the ministers and delegates as part of a package of four decisions on a take-it-or-leave it basis with little time for the members to consider.

True, the decision on the Durban Platform and how it was reached will be debated for a long time to come. The details of the terms of reference are now scheduled to be worked out before Doha COP/CMP. Given the circumstances in which the Durban Platform was launched, these talks on the framework to underpin the new regime can be expected to be tough and lengthy. This is especially because different Parties have different paradigms on the substance and shape of a fair and effective climate change regime.

But in essence, the deal struck at COP17/CMP7 last week to fight climate change gives the biggest polluters three options for a wider agreement by 2015, setting the stage for renewed discord between rich and poor countries.

The ministers and negotiators from 195 nations agreed on December 11 to spend up to four years drafting a “protocol, legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” to take effect by 2020. While the European Union says that calls for a treaty to limit fossil-fuel emissions in all countries, two of the world's three biggest polluters, China and India, signalled they expect to be assigned looser limits in the final accord. EU carbon permits are headed for their biggest weekly drop since June.

The phrase 'agreed outcome with legal force' is new and has some degree of ambiguity, negotiators now embark on years of more talks on how to get all nations to curb emissions, aiming to eventually regulate multinational polluters from US Steel Corp. to China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. Negotiations failed in Copenhagen in 2009 after the US, China, India and the EU got bogged down in divisions over a new treaty's legal form.

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said that including the alternate wording of “legal outcome,” as favoured by India, would have given some countries a potential loophole to escape obligations under a new agreement. “We need the opposite,” she said on December 11. “We need clarity. We need to commit.”

The language in the deal stems from a last-minute compromise after the two-week-long UN conference dragged on two days past their scheduled close, to about 7 a.m. on December 11. The ministers and negotiators from US, India, China, the EU and Brazil huddled out in the open on the plenary floor at about 2:40 a.m. until they came up with legal phrases acceptable to all.

Indian Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan had earlier fought to add “legal outcome” as an alternative to a possible new “protocol” or “legal instrument” to cut global greenhouse gases. The EU, which arrived in Durban pushing for a new legally binding climate treaty involving all nations by 2015, rejected India's language as too weak.

Bangladesh and Gambia, on behalf of LDCs, Grenada for SIDS along with EU accepted the phrases “protocol” and “legal instrument” because those concepts were the basis of negotiating the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. That's a legally binding addition to the existing climate treaty that is now criticised by some industrialised nations because it only orders cuts from them, and not from fast-expanding economies such as China and India. The US signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 but never ratified on that plea.


India Minister Natarajan accused rich nations of trying to set conditions that would rob poorer economies of their right to develop along the same lines as industrialised countries in prior centuries. “We aren't talking about lifestyle sustainability that many of the children of more fortunate countries than ours have, we are talking about livelihood sustainability,” Natarajan said in a speech at the December 11 meeting in Durban. “How do you a give a blank check and give a legally binding agreement to sign away the rights of 1.2 billion people and many other people in the developing world? Is that equity?”

Chinese Minister Xie Zhenhua followed her speech by saying his country supports India's position. He painted industrialised nations as hypocrites for making demands on poor countries while failing to meet their own pledges to reduce emissions. “We've been talking about this for 20 years and it's still not being done,” Xie said. “We want to see your real actions.”

China earlier spoke in Durban about taking on mandatory targets only after 2020 and only if certain conditions are met. Like India, it has been more willing to have voluntary measures.

Bangladesh insisted on second commitment period of Kyoto Protocol maintaining the ultimate objective of the convention, common but differentiated responsibilities enshrined in Kyoto Protocol, delicate balance in Bali Action Plan, implementation of Cancun Agreement. Durban Package must include a Protocol or legal instrument. GCF must be operationalised at Durban with initial capitalisation, standing committee be constituted here for long term finance, GCF EB should be elected here. National adaptation plans process for LDCs must be concretised at Durban with the election of adaptation committee, transfer of technology with centre and networks for full and effective implementation of the framework convention.

As pressure for signing a deal at Durban was mounted by Bangladesh and Gambia for LDCs, Grenada for SIDS, DR Congo for Africa and other developing countries supported by Sweden, Denmark, Australia and UK, the ministers of India, China and the EU later agreed to replace “legal outcome” with “agreed outcome with legal force.” The US, which won't support a new treaty unless China and India are held as accountable for their actions as industrialised countries, helped come up with the language aimed at mollifying both sides.

“'Legal outcome' is something India wanted a lot,” the lead US climate envoy Todd Stern told reporters after the meeting in Durban concluded. “It's just a little vaguer, a little less certain what that might be. There's more ambiguity.” The US and EU and others wanted something with a “little more legal certainty to it,” he said. “The phrase 'an agreed outcome with legal force' just sounded a little meatier than a 'legal outcome,' nothing more scientific than that,” according to Stern.

The EU Commissioner Hedegaard called the UN agreement for new negotiations a “major step forward.” “Everyone must do something, some more than others but whatever we agree to we must be equally accountable for it,” she said. Stern said that while there are “technical variations on the theme,” he believes all nations understand “we're talking about a legal agreement of some sort or another.”

Many of the differences were papered over in the take-it-or-leave it decision-making mode of the final plenary meetings, and the objections of developing countries, especially to many parts of the report and decision from ad hoc working groups on long-term cooperative action under the Convention (AWGLCA) and Kyoto Protocol (AWGKP) were simply brushed aside by their Chairs and by the COP President herself.

However, the basic differences were most evident in the discussions on the reports of the working groups, and on the draft COP decision on Durban Platform during the plenary meetings on Saturday night and Sunday morning that preceded their adoption.

At the informal plenary discussion on the Durban Platform that launched the new round of talks, the highlight was a lengthy and eloquent plea by the Indian Environment Minister for equity to underpin any future regime, following a call by the European Union's chief climate official to alter the draft decision to ensure that the outcome of the new talks would be legally binding.

It was a long, intense and dramatic ending at the Durban climate talks. Negotiations were particularly intense over the push mainly by developed countries, led by the European Union, for a launch of a new process to develop a legally binding instrument aimed at mitigation efforts by all Parties, but without the usual reference (so prominent in previous such resolutions) to the principles of equity or common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR). The US was especially insisting that there be no references to these principles in the decision.

The draft decision proposed to the plenary by the South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, in her capacity as President of the 17th session of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC was to “launch a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or a legal outcome under the Convention applicable to all Parties, through a subsidiary body under the Convention hereby established and to be known as the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action”.

The draft had been the outcome of a series of closed-door talks over the last few days and nights among parties at the ministerial and head of the delegation level. The EU and other European countries and several developing countries including the LDCs and SIDS were insistent on a legally binding regime (thus the terms protocol or other legal instrument) whereas India and China wanted to add the third option of “legal outcome”.

The third option was included in the final draft put by the COP17 President to the plenary. Although an appeal was made to accept the texts of the four decisions as a whole, the EU commissioner Connie Hedegaard asked for re-opening the Durban Platform decision to cancel the third option of “legal outcome.”

India's Environment Minister, Jayanti Natarajan then made a plea for all options in terms of the legal form of the new process to remain on the table, including a “legal outcome” (instead of only a protocol or legal instrument as possible options) in the new process of talks, stressing the need for equity and the principle of CBDR to be the centre piece of the climate change debate.

Those who have been in the climate change negotiation process for some time know that even though there is an explicit absence of the words 'equity' and 'CBDR' in the text, a protocol, legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention must be consistent with the existing principles and provisions of the Convention and therefore the principles of equity and CBDR can be implied to apply. However, this view can be challenged, when the negotiations start on the run-up to Doha COP 18/CMP8 November next.

The most important aspect of COP17/CMP7 was that Kyoto Protocol is still alive. A decision was also adopted on the Kyoto Protocol on Sunday morning. The second commitment period of the Protocol begins January 1, 2013. However, it remains to be seen if the commitments will be made in CMP8 at Doha, and if so what the numbers and substance will be. The mandate of AWGLCA had also been extended for another year to accomplish the unfinished tasks of the Bali Action Plan.

Therefore, as a lead negotiator of LDCs, I don't think Durban was a debacle despite the fact that decisions were water-down and we have to do a lot of work to keep the momentum gained at Durban.

The Bangladesh delegation led by environment minister Dr Hasan Mahmud played a catalyst role in the whole period of negotiation while Bangladesh was speaking on behalf of LDCs on a number of key agenda items of COP/CMP and AWGLCA and in few other issues on behalf of G 77. LDC Chair Pa Ousman of Gambia played an instrumental role in spearheading the negotiation at crucial moments.

Building on the experience and lessons learnt from COP17/CMP7 at Durban, LDCs including Bangladesh and Gambia should prepare for Doha by further consolidating the knowledge-base of the climate diplomacy with more intensive homework and solid preparations. LDC climate negotiation team should start its work without any delay. The 48 LDCs should prepare a roadmap for Doha and beyond since global climate negotiation has taken a new turn after Durban and people of LDCs, including Bangladesh, have serious stakes.

Quamrul Islam Chowdhury, a lead negotiator of LDCs/G77 and a member of Bangladesh Negotiation Team, has been in the process since the dawn of climate negotiation, and played an instrumental role in Durban COP17/CMP7. He is also current chair of Kyoto Protocol Joint Implementation Supervisory Committee. He can be reached at quamrul2030@gmail.com.


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