Bold steps needed

28 November 2011 | Article

As the UN climate summit gets under way in Durban, South Africa, IUCN’s Senior Climate Change Policy Adviser, Claire Parker, describes the current state of play regarding the negotiations and what steps IUCN wants to see.

The Durban negotiations will take place against the background of the past year’s headlines, which once again made perturbing reading. Among them: 2010 tied with 2005 as the warmest year on record, and was part of the warmest decade on record. Sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean reached its second lowest level in recorded history in September 2011. Greenhouse gas emissions increased by 45% between 1990 and 2010, and reached an all-time high of 33 billion tonnes in 2010.

After the disappointing Copenhagen summit in 2009, followed by moderate but real progress in Cancun in 2010, will Durban deliver what the world needs to keep to the 2°C target (increase in average global temperature above pre-industrial level)? The issues at stake are complex, but not insurmountable. If there is sufficient political will, a few key milestones could be set in Durban that would clear the way for a new, global, legally-binding climate change regime to be agreed before the end of this decade.

Key milestones

The first of these milestones is agreement on a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol (KP2)—the first one ends at the end of 2012. A number of industrialized countries who are Parties to the Protocol may be prepared to sign up to this, and convert the so far voluntary pledges made at Copenhagen and Cancun into binding commitments. A KP2 would also preserve the accounting rules and mechanisms that have been instrumental in establishing a budding carbon market. Moreover, the developing countries attach great importance to a KP2, as they see this as proof of the industrialized world’s continuing commitment to tackling climate change.

The second milestone is inextricably linked to an agreement on KP2: the adoption of a roadmap for a wider, global climate change regime in which all significant emitters—industrialized countries or ‘emerging economies’—will participate with binding and enhanced emission reductions that can be measured, verified and reported to the UN system. Enhancement of emission reductions is needed because the current pledges are not sufficient to reach the 2°C goal.

Without such a roadmap, it is unlikely that the KP Parties will go for KP2, as this leaves them vulnerable to economic competition from non-KP Parties, notably the United States, as well as from ‘big’ emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa and others. This is a big ask: we know that several of the non-KP Parties, including the US, China and India are so far unwilling to commit to entering negotiations towards such a binding regime.

Building trust

The third milestone is making a number of institutions and mechanisms agreed in Cancun fully operational. The Green Climate Fund is seen as crucial to secure developing nations’ goodwill for their continuing engagement in the process and willingness to take part in a global regime. The Fund will receive money from rich countries and channel it to adaptation actions and clean technology in developing countries. Once set up, the Adaptation Framework will stimulate action on adaptation so urgently needed on the ground and foster international cooperation and support.

The ‘REDD+’ regime, which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in developing countries, will compensate developing countries who are prepared to conserve, manage and restore their forests in order to keep them functioning as an important ‘sink’ for CO2 and avoiding emissions from burnt or decaying forests. Finally, a rigorous monitoring, verification and reporting system (‘mrv’ in the negotiators’ jargon) is being prepared, that will be applied to the reduction undertakings—voluntary or binding—from all countries and make comparison of effort possible.

Promoting natural solutions

How will IUCN’s representatives engage in this complex process in Durban? They will actively promote nature-based solutions to climate change and encourage governments to incorporate them into national, regional and local policies.

IUCN will strongly advocate for a REDD+ mechanism that ensures meaningful participation by forest dependent communities; transparent and equitable arrangements for the distribution of the benefits; and the recognition of the role and rights of Indigenous Peoples and women.

IUCN will also promote urgent enhanced action on adaptation by all Parties, that takes account of the needs and wishes of the host countries, is gender-sensitive, and takes into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems. It will urge countries to consider prioritizing adaptation actions that include the conservation, sustainable management and restoration of ecosystems to help people, particularly rural and coastal communities dependent on natural resources, to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

IUCN will also be focusing on marine ecosystems. Ocean acidification is not a consequence of global warming, but increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, absorbed by the oceans, also causes it. It has wide potential consequences for habitats, species and human livelihoods. Activities on mangrove forests and other coastal carbon-rich ecosystems such as saltmarshes and seagrass meadows could complement the nature-based solutions provided by forests for reducing atmospheric CO2. IUCN will make the case for both ocean acidification and ‘coastal carbon’ to be addressed in the negotiations.

Finally, IUCN will show, through its publications and side events, that building resilience of socio-economic and ecological systems can be achieved or enhanced through sustainable management of our natural resources: forests and other terrestrial ecosystems, mangroves, the oceans, wetlands, rivers and more. The potential is vast.

For more information on IUCN’s involvement in the UN climate meetings, see our ‘IUCN and the UNFCCC’ section.