The Durban Climate Change Talks- just another 'event?'
9th January 2011
The crashing of successive waves of ‘events’ on the shore of the UKs body politic in the last year makes divining what is significant and what is not very difficult. Before you have got to grips with what the latest event or crisis means, the next one is upon you. Because of this events get buried.
It almost feels as though the relatively recent outcome of the Durban Climate Change conference falls into this category. Well, we had a meeting that everyone thought would produce nothing as far as progress on climate change action was concerned, and – oh hold on – some sort of agreement emerged, but we’re not quite sure what that means, but ah - the next crisis is upon us so let’s leave it there, shall we.
I think it’s worth pausing a little on Durban. True, it didn’t produce any results that in themselves saved us from global warming, or even put us on the path to do so. But the agreement that the conference produced, albeit at the very last minute, I think bears some scrutiny. In fact the outcome of there being an agreement of any kind has changed matters considerably. Effectively, prior to Durban the rising presumption was that there was no future for any kind of law-based international treaty on climate change; the future lay in so-called ‘pledge and review’ commitments in which countries made voluntary commitments or bilateral deals which might be more or less effective depending who did them and how.
Coming out instead with an agreement to work towards a treaty that will succeed the Kyoto Accord by 2020, even if the road to doing so remains strewn with difficulties, overturns those assumptions. That can only be good for climate change policies and low carbon investments within countries that might have been beginning to think that, well, if no-one else will be doing it, why should we? It will be particularly important as far as the EU was concerned, which was beginning to feel that kind of pressure. It probably means that the targets for renewable energy, for example will stay in place rather than be watered down, and that some of Europe’s more ambitious carbon emission cutting aspirations will be cemented and developed. That, in turn, is important for the continuing commitment of the UK to such goals. There is already a challenge coming from those who argue that trying to decarbonise our electricity supplies is just an expensive indulgence when we should instead be building new gas and coal fired power stations to ‘keep the lights on.' If European ambition had fallen apart, then rapidly, I am sure so would the UK’s.
And there is, of course another side of the Durban Agreement that might be reflected upon. An agreement came about largely because the EU went into the talks with a clear position which collectively they stuck together on. It was in the balance, but that sense of common purpose persuaded others who had doubts and legitimate concerns about what was in an international agreement for them to come on board. The determination of the EU lead negotiator Connie Hedegaard not to be deflected from this, and indeed the strong shift that UK participants such as Chris Huhne put in, really made a difference to what was achieved. It is perhaps something of a lesson to consider when looking at all those other ‘events’ that keep breaking around our heads: stick together and you might get somewhere: break off into mutually distrustful platoons and you certainly won’t.
This article was originally published in The Environmentalist.
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