The existing climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, did not require developing nations to reduce emissions. The Durban Platform starts a new process whose goal is to complete, by 2015, a global climate pact with legal force, applying to all nations. This will mean major developing nations will be required to make cuts.
The documents agreed to in Durban, after an unusual extension of the talks by more than 24 hours beyond their scheduled adjournment, also flesh out details of several key programs. Those include two transferring technology and climate aid to developing nations and one laying the groundwork for international monitoring of countries’ efforts to cut emissions.
The exact obligations countries will face under a new climate accord remain unclear. But the wide reach of the agreement shows that the byzantine negotiations which have steered global policymaking on climate for two decades are now catching up with reality.
The United States continued to attract the bulk of attention — and criticism — during the conference from activists who charged it was not doing enough to curb its own emissions or to aid poor countries imperiled by global warming. But for most of the countries pushing for a meaningful outcome in Durban, the focus was on China and India.
U.S. likely to move slowly
Several foreign negotiators and climate experts interviewed over the past week said they know that the United States is unlikely to adopt nationwide limits on greenhouse gases anytime soon, especially if a Republican wins the presidency next year. China, by contrast, is establishing a pilot trading system in several provinces and sectors next year along with other policies aimed at slowing its carbon output.
“I have to admit, we look these days more at the East than the West,” Jos Delbeke, the European Commission’s director general for climate action, said in an interview. The idea of tackling China’s rising emissions, he said, is “daunting. But that should not diminish our efforts to get them involved. The opposite is true.”
For several years, the European Union has been debating whether to cut its emissions 20 percent or 30 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said he recently shocked a group of E.U. officials by telling them that the difference between those two goals was equivalent to a matter of weeks’ worth of greenhouse-gas emissions from China. Moreover, according to Birol, China’s per capita emissions will surpass the E.U.’s by 2015.