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Friday, December 2, 2011

International Climate Change: What to Expect at the Durban Conference, December 2011

Jane A. Leggett
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

Delegations from more than 190 countries and regions meet from November 28 to December 9, 2011, in Durban, South Africa, to continue discussions of how to address climate change under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The year 2012 will mark both the 20th anniversary of the opening for signature of the UNFCCC in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the end of the first “commitment period” (2008-2012) of the UNFCCC’s subsidiary Kyoto Protocol.

In 2010, the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC adopted a set of decisions referred to as the “Cancun Agreements.” These embody pledges to abate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions made by all major emitting Parties; reporting and review systems to ensure “transparency” of implementation; a new Green Climate Fund and a Technology Mechanism; and restatement of pledges by the wealthiest countries to mobilize financing for adaptation, mitigation, technology, and capacity-building: pledges approaching $30 billion during 2010-2012, and a goal of approaching $100 billion annually by 2020. Parties agreed that funding would come from public and private, bilateral and multilateral, and alternative sources. The most vulnerable developing countries have priority for the 2010-2012 funds.

Parties meeting in Durban, South Africa, will seek agreements that would clarify and carry out the Cancun Agreements. The dialogues particularly regard any second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, establishment of the Green Climate Fund and Technology Mechanism; and guidelines for the reporting and review mechanisms.

This report provides context for the discussions that will ensue in the Durban conference, then outlines the main issues and expectations for decisions by the Parties. Many see agreement on a new commitment period for GHG abatement under the Kyoto Protocol as key to almost all other decisions. Notably, delegations from China, India, and some other middle-income countries say they will not discuss their own possible GHG abatement commitments until the highest-income “Annex I” Parties meet their existing commitments and sign up to further reductions under the Kyoto Protocol. On the other hand, Canada, Japan, and Russia have stated they will not offer GHG reductions except in an agreement that includes legally binding commitments from all major emitters (including China, the United States, and others). The United States, which declined to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, has no quantitative and binding GHG commitments. The absence of commitments from the top three global GHG emitters (China, the United States, and India) is a matter of consternation among many delegations.

In Durban, the Parties may agree on rules to establish the Climate Green Fund, the Standing Committee on Finance, the Adaptation Committee, the Technology Committee, and Clean Technology Centre, and additional decisions to promote mitigation of greenhouse gases and adaptation to impacts of climate change. A proposal exists, but seems unlikely to be adopted, to set a mandate to negotiate by 2015 a new global agreement that would take effect by 2020.

Date of Report: November 22, 2011
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: R42101
Price: $29.95

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