Durban Climate Change: The Agreement Explained

The world has just agreed an “historic” new climate change deal in Durban but what does it mean for you?

What has happened in Durban?
More than 190 countries met for two weeks for the latest round of United Nations climate change negotiations. The aim of the UN Framework Convention onClimate Change (UNFCCC) is to stop global warming by limiting global carbon emissions. The talks dragged on two days longer than expected, making this the longest UNFCCC meeting ever experienced.

What has been achieved?
At the end of the gruelling talks the world decided on the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action”. The two-page document commits all countries to cutting carbon for the first time. A “road map” will guide countries towards a legal deal to cut carbon in 2015, but it will only come into effect after 2020.

Is this a step forwards for the world or backwards?
It is a success in terms of keeping the climate change talks on track after it was feared no decision would be reached, making a mockery of the UN process – especially after the collapse of the last high profile talks in Copenhagen in 2009. The EU, who led calls for the so-called “road map” are hailing it as “an historic breakthrough”. The bloc point out that this is the first time that the world’s three biggest emitters: the US, China and India have signed up to a legal treaty to cut carbon.

However it is below the expectations of certain countries, like the small island states, and the charities, who wanted a much stronger agreement. They argue that the legal language needs to be a lot stronger to force countries to act and dates should be brought forward to stop global warming. They point out that carbon emissions will have to peak by 2020 and start to come down for the world to limit temperature rises to 2C.

What about the Kyoto Protocol?
The EU and a few other developed countries have signed up to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol that ends in 2013. This will ensure that there is still some form of legally binding treaty to cut carbon in place in the interim years before the new agreement comes into force at the end of 2020. However most of the developing world and the US remain in voluntary agreements to cut carbon until 2020.

What about the money on the table?
The world has agreed to help poor countries cope with climate change through a new Green Climate Fund that will hand out around £60bn per annum from 2020. However, again the details of the agreement are very vague. All that has been decided is that a body will be set up to distribute and manage the funds. It is not yet clear how the money will be raised. Possible plans to raise fund from a tax on shipping or aviation have not been signed off yet.

What next?
There is still a lot of work to do on the agreement. The next UNFCCC meeting in Quatar next year will start negotiations towards the 2015 deal, including the kind of targets each country will sign up to. There will also be discussion of carbon cuts for the EU and a few other countries under the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. The rest of the world will be pushed to increase their targets to cut carbon through voluntary agreements before 2020 through civil society and political pressure.

What is the gigatonne gap?
There remains a gap between how much the world has pledged to cut carbon and how much carbon emissions need to come down to stop global warming according to the science. The UN estimate there is still a six tonne ”gigatonne gap” unless ambitions can be scaled up through voluntary agreements over the next decade.

What does it all mean for ordinary people?
This is a major signal to business to start investing in green technology as the world moves towards a low carbon future.

Europe is already cutting carbon but this will increase pressure to increase the target from 20 per cent by 2020 to 30 per cent by 2030. As part of the bloc it will also encourage the UK to increase its targets, although it is already committed to 34 per cent by 2020. The rest of the world will also be encouraged to cut carbon on a voluntary basis at first and as part of the deal in 2020.

It could mean the carbon price increases and carbon markets begin to function better pushing up the price of fossil fuels but ensuring investment in wind and solar. In the UK this could mean ‘green jobs’ for the economy but also cost to the tax payer through energy bills to pay for the new power stations.