The global climate deal is on track, but too slow

Was the Durban COP a disappointment or a breakthrough? For Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the answer lies somewhere in between. Durban, she told an audience in London last week, might be seen in future as the “furthest reaching” of all the COPs, but more action is required to meet the goal of keeping global average temperature rises below two degrees Celsius. 

Not everybody shares  Figueres’s positive assessment, but she argued that three key achievements in Durban made it significant: it achieved a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol; it incorporated the mitigation plans of 49 developing countries to add to the industrialised countries, thus accounting for 89% of global emissions, albeit in a process that would remain voluntary until 2020. (The Kyoto Protocol, in comparison, included only 15% to 18% of global emissions). Finally, she argued, the commitment to build a universal legal framework for mitigation actions that would cover all the nations of the world, to be negotiated by 2015, and to go into effect by 2020, was Durban’s biggest gift to the world.

All of this, she acknowledged, remains insufficient.  “Current emission reduction pledges account for only 60% of what is needed to stabilise temperature rise at below two degrees Centigrade, let alone the 1.5 degrees that is needed to keep vulnerable communities safe,” she said, but added that the fact that governments also acknowledged that current targets were insufficient was a sign of the political will to achieve more.

It was an optimistic view of a conference that many fear only managed to kick the can a little further down the road, and despite her positive view, Christiana Figueres agreed that the world had already spent too long in discussion of climate change.  The need now is for action that goes far beyond governments to encompass civil society and business. It was civil society, she said, that gave policy makers space to act, and civil society needed to be more vocal in its demands for action on climate.

Asked about the world’s two biggest emitters, China and the United States, Figueres expressed the hope that the electorates in the United States would vote for candidates who offered the country a future, rather than an ideology. “Will US voters be content to see China and Europe producing and benefitting from the clean technologies we will all be using or would they prefer to be the leaders of those technologies?” she said. On China’s plans for a low carbon future, she said that she observed that China monitored progress closely and could be counted on to revise its plans if it was falling short of its targets.

Image courtesy of Unclimatechange