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Archive for December, 2011

Durban Conference key for us all

Monday, December 5th, 2011

At present all the world’s nations are meeting in Durban to try and get a new international treaty on carbon emissions and Old Macdonald was keen to find out what it is all about. He thinks that the only international treaty to set down legally-binding curbs on carbon emissions is hanging by a thread. More and more advanced economies say they will not renew their pledges after the first round of commitments expires at the end of 2012 because the world’s biggest polluters remain outside these constraints.

That leaves the EU in Durban as the only bloc willing to renew its vows – provided the top two emitters, China and the US, endorse a “roadmap” to a comprehensive climate pact by 2015. Without a second commitment period, Kyoto would still exist as a treaty but it would be operationally gutted. Its collapse would send a devastating signal about the climate process ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Rio Summit where the forum was born.

But some experts say the treaty’s labyrinthine rulebook and 1990s-era distinctions between rich and poor countries should be ditched. Kyoto could be cannibalised and its useful parts incorporated into a new approach, they argue.

Climate finance

At the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, developed nations committed to creating a Green Climate Fund that will disburse, by 2020, at least $100bn per year to help poorer nations fight and cope with climate change. The Durban meeting will seek to resolve problems on the Fund’s design.

Developing nations want more money for adapting to climate change rather than keeping emissions down, and favour the creation of a UN-controlled fund to distribute the money. Rich nations, though, prioritise emissions mitigation, and prefer using existing channels such as the World Bank. Another issue is whether to endow the Fund with a specific source of revenue, such as a tax on aviation and shipping fuels, a global financial transaction fee and auctioning of carbon emissions allowances.

Most of $30bn in Copenhagen’s “fast-start financing” for 2010 – 2012 has been pledged and a good portion of it disbursed. Still unclear is how climate financing will build up to the $100bn-per-year-target, starting in 2013. The 2008 global financial crisis and the looming threat of further recession is making this task hard.


Forests are “sinks” that soak up nearly a third of carbon emissions each year. Loss of forests is also a powerful addition to the greenhouse-gas problem. The UN-backed scheme known as Redd+ – Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation ‘Plus’ – allots credit to tropical countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa that slow rates of forest destruction. It also provides a mechanism for rich countries to offset their own carbon-reduction commitments by investing in that process.

Environmental groups say a portion of the Green Climate Fund should be earmarked for Redd+, which will require $15bn to $40bn to implement, according to different estimates. They also call on the UN body to set a 2020 target for reversing the net loss of forest cover. Neither goal will be easily achieved.

Emissions compliance

A question since the Copenhagen Summit is how to make voluntary national cuts in greenhouse gas emissions measurable, reportable and verifiable – “MRV”, in UN climate lingo.

Progress has been stymied by a reluctance by developing countries to be subject to the same scrutiny as developed ones under the UNFCCC’s two-tier system of accountability.

Rich countries say that emerging giants will account for the lion’s share of emissions in the future, which means the “MRVs” have to be credible. The US, in particular, is insisting on common standards in oversight.

So Old Macdonald will tell you that this is a very complicated subject. It is all very well those of us living in comparative comfort in Europe to expect those living in rainforest areas to stop cutting back trees, but the forest provides their only real source of income and they want to have the right to have decent roads and transport links and to grow crops to raise money.

However all of you can do something in your own lives, because loss of animal life is not just a thing that happens “over there” so take care with your gardens and plant flowers that are friendly to bugs as they feed birds and birds spread seeds, all part of the Circle of Life, and also cut back on pesticides. Then you can make sure any wood you buy is from sustainable sources (those that are not from endangered areas), and of course re use and recycle as much as you can. If everyone in the world did something, between us we would achieve a lot. Even Old Mac helps, he recycles his money, and his jokes too.