Durban Climate Change Conference 2011 COP17

COP17 United Nations
COP17 United Nations

The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 7th Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties (CMP7) to the Kyoto Protocol, was held in the city of Durban, South Africa. The conference dates were 28 November 2011 to 9 December 2011.

Closing loopholes that allow countries to not account for emissions from logging and burning native forests

The Australian Forests and Climate Alliance called for Australia’s delegation to the Durban Climate Change Conference to close the LULUCF loopholes that allow countries to not account for emissions associated with logging and burning native forests.

“During the Durban Climate Conference all countries, including Australia, must take real action to protect the world’s forests and deliver real reductions in carbon pollution” said Australian Forests and Climate Alliance (AFCA) spokesperson Peter Campbell.

“The protection of the world’s natural forests must be a part of the global climate agreement that is reached in Durban. The world’s forests, including Australia’s native forests, can play a major role in avoiding dangerous climate change, but they need to be protected from logging and clearing immediately.”

“We ask Minister Combet to commit to protecting Australia’s native forests as part of Australia’s contribution to fighting climate change. This would mean that Australia could increase and meet an emissions reductions target of 25%, instead of the current inadequate pledge of 5%.”

“Australia must commit to stop hiding emissions that result from logging our forests. The next climate deal must deliver real reductions; it should not include loopholes that allow countries to hide emissions that result from logging and burning our native forests”, said Mr Campbell.

“A loophole in the rules for land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) allows countries like Australia to continue to log their native forests, releasing massive amounts of carbon emissions, but they do not have to account for these emissions.”

“For example, Australia’s native forest woodchipping industry generates millions of tonnes of CO2 a year, but these emissions are not counted either in Australia or in Japan, where most of the woodchips end up.”

Another major loophole allows countries to avoid counting emissions that come from the supply of native forests to be burnt for electricity generation.”

“Burning native forests for electricity is bad for the climate, bad for the forests and bad for forest communities.“ said Peter Campbell

“Finally, emissions resulting from biomass production are not properly accounted for, and they should be”.

“These logging and bioenergy loopholes must be closed and forest management accounting made mandatory so countries cannot hide carbon emissions from logging and burning forests.”

“Protecting our native forests from logging also safeguards the water that comes from them and protects their biological diversity, including essential micro-organisms, fungi, plants and animals.”[1]

Update from Fiona Armstrong from the Climate Health Alliance

Source: COPping the heat (and the procrastination) in Durban, Fiona Armstrong, Climate & Health Alliance[2]

The beachside city of Durban is packed, with 10,000 people from 194 countries in town for the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to negotiate the next step in the process of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

It’s also the 7th meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP7), the mechanism through which the Protocol is implemented, and the central subject of this meeting, as nations wrestle with what arrangements can be put in place to replace or extend the agreements under the Protocol which expires in 2012.

Proposals and for a new Climate Treaty

The focus to date has been on drafting, negotiating and agreeing proposals for each country’s Ministers to use when they begin to negotiate the shape of the new commitments next week. There are concurrent discussions on the mitigation efforts agreed in Cancun last year, outstanding commitments from the Bali Action Plan of 2007, and intense discussions on both the volume and rate at which contributions to the Green Climate Fund are delivered to assist developing nations cut emissions and adapt to climate change.

Several countries, including Australia, have put forward proposals for a new treaty that would provide for implementation of the Convention post 2012.[3]

Ideally, this would also cover the commitments being negotiated under the Long term Cooperative Action (LCA) plans begun at Cancun, which includes mitigation strategies by countries such as the US currently outside the Kyoto Protocol.

Canada flags its intention to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol

In a demonstration of negative peer influence, US recalcitrance is now being echoed by its northern neighbours, Canada, who earned themselves “fossil of the day” award on day one of the negotiations by indicating their intention to withdraw from the Protocol when it expires next year. This surprised no-one, as Canada has been falling short of their commitments for some time, but their hostility to the process was somewhat unprecedented, given the comments by the Canadian Environment Minister that signing Kyoto has been “one of the biggest blunders” ever made by their national government[4].

The glaring chasm between stated commitments of countries and targets recommended by the IPCC

The glaring chasm in the discussions is the gap between stated commitments of countries to cut emissions and those recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report (and confirmed by more recent evaluations, such as the Australian Climate Commission’s Critical Decade report in May[5]). (This ‘discrepancy’ was acknowledged in the Cancun Agreements, but subsequent indications of willingness to act and the negotiations here suggest there is a widespread delusional disorder among many nations that postponement will not carry profound risk and that delay due to poor political appetite is somehow justified).

Common accounting methods for measurement, reporting and verification

Other issues being negotiated here include the establishment of common accounting methods for measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of emissions reduction efforts, including international offsets. This is key to transparency and accountability, and a vital underpinning of any international agreement. There is much that is unknown about many of these commitments to date however (eg how emissions will be achieved, what gases will be covered, what accounting systems, and what sectors will be covered).

In the meantime, many nongovernment organisations (NGOs) are focussing on the kinds of climate change issues that affect the welfare of people – trade, markets, gender, global justice, finance, and health.

Health-related impacts of climate change

Health is receiving more attention than at previous COPs, with the largest ever health delegation to attend the international climate talks in Durban. There are scores of health organisations from more than 30 countries and dozens of health-related side events. Over 200 delegates will attend the Global Climate and Health Summit on Sunday where the establishment of a global climate and health coalition is proposed.

Mentions of health in the negotiating texts are few and far between however, but health NGOs are working hard here to encourage countries to embed health messages into the discussions and stated ambitions, by highlighting the serious and increasing risks to health from climate change, as well as the substantial and immediate benefits to health from strategies to reduce emissions.

Australia’s role regarded as more cooperative but questions raised about accounting for emissions from logging and burning native forests

Australia’s role appears more cooperative rather than at earlier meetings, and the delegation coasting on a bit of goodwill for getting some form of climate policy legislation passed. Questions are still being raised however about its role in holding out for a loophole in the rules for land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) which allows Australia log and burn native forests without having to account for the emissions this causes.

Australia’s Clean Energy Future target is too low and may not be achieved

And there is no room for complacency in assuming the Clean Energy Future legislation is anywhere near enough for Australia to meet its obligations: a study out this week shows Australia needs to do much more to meet even its own 5% by 2020 target, much less the ambitious reductions required to keep warming stays below 2°C agreed to in Cancun, or the 1.5°C maximum sought by Pacific and some African nations.

Along with most other nations, Australia needs to substantially raise its ambition. This requires much stronger targets: its contribution to the global task of emissions reductions must be consistent with its emissions profile as well as a fair share of the global task – cognisant of the commitments already in place from other countries.

Many countries are meeting Kyoto commitments

Its important to be aware that many other countries are meeting their (admittedly inadequate) Kyoto commitments and many are implementing climate policy:

  • eleven other nations with whom Australia trades now have a price on carbon
  • fourteen have renewable energy targets
  • many more have policies such as emissions performance standards, feed-tariffs, and subsidies or incentives for energy efficiency or renewable energy technology.

Despite having been hit by the eurozone crunch much harder than Australia, the UK, for example, is still committed to reductions of 50% by 2020[6]. Global investment in renewable energy hit US$211 billion in 2010 and this despite the global economic downturn.[7]

Key messages from Non-Government Organisations in Durban

The key messages from NGOs here in Durban are that:

  • Australia’s current target is inadequate;
  • other countries are taking action;
  • strong domestic national policy is key to other countries taking action: and
  • there are important national benefits for emissions reductions that are available immediately.

Reframing climate action

But Australian officials need to do a better job both here in Durban and at home to create a compelling narrative for strong climate action.

There are many ‘frames’ through which climate action can be positively viewed i.e. benefits to health, risk management, and low carbon market opportunities – all of which are real, and available right now.

The community must be made aware of the opportunities, and the consequences, of further delay. And distortions of the science by those with vested interests must be exposed, as one presentation here suggested for the “assault on humanity” that it is.[8]

While many of the negotiations here are taking place behind closed doors, there is a vital role for observers in tracking progress and spreading the word on how the talks progress.

As these talks continue, I hope people back at home are following, and letting their representatives know that they expect a positive outcome. Time is short: very short, according to the recent International Energy Agency report.[9]

See also

External links


  1. Durban Climate Conference: Australia must close loopholes for emissions from logging our forests, Peter Campbell, Australian Forest and Climate Alliance, 3 December 2011
  2. COPping the heat (and the procrastination) in Durban, Fiona Armstrong, Climate & Health Alliance, 3 December 2011
  3. Australian and Norway Submission under the Cancun Agreements – Enhanced action on Mitigation, September 2011 (PDF)
  4. Climate Conference 2011: Canada Says Kyoto Protocol ‘Biggest Blunder,’ May Withdraw, Tom Zeller Jr, Huffington Post, 28 November 2011
  5. The Critical Decade: a report from the Commission, Climate Commission, 2011
  6. Chris Huhne pledges to halve UK carbon emissions by 2025, Fiona Harvey and Allegra Stratton, The Guardian, 17 May 2011
  7. Global Renewable Energy Investment Surged In 2010, Energy Matters, Renewable Energy News, 8 July 2011
  8. An Ethical Analysis of the Climate Change Disinformation Campaign: Is This A New Kind of Assault on Humanity?, Donald A Brown, Climate Ethics, 2 December 2011
  9. World headed for irreversible climate change in five years, IEA warns, The Guardian, 9 November 2011