Scenarios: What can U.N. climate talks in Durban deliver?

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 08, 2011 4:08 PM
Scenarios: What can U.N. climate talks in Durban deliver?

DURBAN, South Africa (Reuters) - As major climate talks in South Africa approach their final day, the most likely outcome is a modest step towards a broader deal to cut greenhouse gas pollution to fight climate change.

Years of fraught U.N.-led climate talks have so far failed to win agreement from all big polluting nations on stronger emissions curbs, despite soaring greenhouse gas emissions and a string of weather disasters across the globe.

Delegates said some progress had been made in Durban on aspects of a Green Climate Fund to help poor nations combat the effects of global warming, and support was growing for an EU "road map" to a broader climate pact with binding targets.

But negotiators need to decide what to do with the Kyoto Protocol, which poorer nations insist must be extended beyond 2012 and which is the only treaty that sets carbon caps. Some countries now say a new deal will not be in place until after 2020.

Following are possible outcomes from Durban.


Chances: Unlikely

Kyoto commits 37 rich nations to binding emissions targets during 2008-12. But the 1997 pact doesn't include the United States -- which never ratified it -- and developing nations only have to take voluntary steps.

The Kyoto Protocol, in its current form, is out of date. It sets caps on countries that emit less than 30 percent of mankind's greenhouse gas emissions. Developing nations now emit more than 50 percent. The United States refuses to sign up to a broader pact unless it commits all major emitters to curbs on equal terms.

Developing nations say Kyoto must first be extended and with new targets for rich nations covered by the pact.


Chances: Likely

As nations argue over the legal form of any deal, Durban might fail to agree on extending Kyoto into a second phase with updated binding targets.

Kyoto can still survive. It is a broad-based pact that covers provisions for regular reporting of emissions, market mechanisms that allow emissions trading and compliance. Many of the provisions can still function without new targets.

Many countries, rich and poor, are also taking steps to curb emissions. These include carbon trading schemes, renewable energy investment and tougher energy efficiency.

But analysts say these are not enough to slow climate change or halt the growth in demand for fossil fuels.


Chances: Very likely

Kyoto is likely to be saved in some form. For poor nations, especially in Africa, where the talks are being held, it has played a major role in supporting sustainable development.

The thinking is that if Kyoto can be propped up, agreement could also be reached on other aspects of the whole U.N. process on tackling climate change.

A deal in some form could also serve as the basis of a broader legally binding pact later on.

How would this work?

Rich nations -- except the United States -- could agree to establish a second period under Kyoto in a political agreement in which emissions targets would be commitments and not legally binding caps. But Canada, Russia and Japan have vowed not to agree to a second period.

A second option could be a "minimalist" Kyoto agreement in which the existing targets in the 2008-12 first period are merely extended for a couple of years.

Under this idea, key parts of the Kyoto pact, such as emissions trading, regular reporting of emissions and compliance would also be included.