Climate talks end with late deal

Protesters hold a night vigil as talks at the climate change summit in Durban, South Africa, on 9 December 2011. Whether there is light at the end of the tunnel as a result of the summit is a matter of opinion

For some reason that I've not quite figured out, lots of people in the dying embers of this UN climate meeting were asking "who's a winner, and who's a loser?"

There are loads of perhaps more rational questions you could ask, the most pertinent being: "What has this done to curb climate change?"

But what the heck - winners and losers is as good a way as any to set up a quick review of the meeting - so here goes.

Among delegations, there's a rich smorgasbord of winners.

The EU decided to play an active leadership role, looking to drive more ambition in cutting emissions - and it did, staying strong and relatively united throughout.

It didn't get the deal it wanted; but then no-one does in a negotiation.

And it didn't crumble at the last minute, as it has done before, and as the Americans reportedly believed it would this time too.

Countries highly vulnerable to climate impacts notched up a win too.

There are a heck of a lot of them - the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis) and the Least Developed Countries bloc (LDCs) have more than 70 members combined.

That's enough to block decisions on many issues, not just in the UN climate convention.

If more nations pushing for a strong agreement worked with them, they could become a formidable force; and here, for the first time, the muscles flexed.

US 'quiet man' tactic

Politically, the US had a very good meeting.

With an election looming, President Barack Obama could only lose through having his delegation in the public eye.

Give too much away, and the president would be pilloried for being soft - especially if the parties being given to included China.

But stand out against a tide of other countries trying to move forward on climate change, as happened at the UN meeting in Bali four years ago, and he'd risk alienating more of the supporters who reportedly are already too disillusioned to bother volunteering for his campaign this time round.

The "quiet man" tactics worked perfectly. Canada took most of the heat early on; when ministers arrived, the US was barely visible, and if anyone appeared "hard-line", it was India and China - perfect for the US blame game.

Among nations, no-one emerged a particular loser, though the South African hosts had quite a good go at it.

US protester Abigail Borah disrupts negotiator Todd Stern in Durban, South Africa on 8 December 2011 US envoy Todd Stern's set-piece speech was interrupted by a young heckler

Don't get me wrong. In the ordinary sense, they were great hosts - friendly security guards, decent food, sunny skies, functioning wi-fi, prompt public release of conference documents - only the occasional mugging out in town to spoil the mood.

But in terms of active diplomacy to bring a deal to fruition - no.

"No urgency, no strategy" was a complaint heard too often. And all the host city gets named after it is a "platform" - the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.

Not a protocol, not a convention, not a mandate; and I'll place a small bet that phrases like "waiting on the Durban Platform" will gain a lot of currency over the next four years at least.

Outside the halls of government, it was a very good meeting for the youth.

Unfailingly charming, youth delegates brought a freshness, a "Yes-we-can" -ness, to the often jaundiced proceedings.

Some of their demonstrations worked too. US envoy Todd Stern was visibly rattled when his set-piece speech was interrupted - not so much rattled by the young heckler as by the prolonged applause generated by her heckling - applause coming from people who were supposed to be her elders and his peers.

And the "occupation" on the final scheduled afternoon made an impact simply because it went on for so long - a couple of hours - bringing a distinct feeling of substance, a "we're staying here until you sort it out" kind of vibe.

Big emitters' cuts

Overall, civil society had a mixed time.

If you haven't been at one of these meetings, it's probably difficult to imagine just how important some civil society representatives are to the process - analysing, assisting, strategising, connecting, conniving, colluding.

Start Quote

The argument that 'we can't ask the big developing countries to cut their emissions because it'll take pressure off the developed ones' is, again, surely outdated; because it also works in reverse.”

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The hookup between the EU, Aosis and the LDCs wouldn't have happened without a bit of civil society glue. For those involved in that initiative, it was a triumph.

But for a number of NGOs who stuck rigidly to the "only developed countries must cut emissions" line, it was a bad, bad meeting.

The strategy is perfectly understandable when you think of all the dirty tricks that have gone on in times past on issues such as trade, when developing countries, frankly, needed the protection that came from forming an unbreakable alliance.

Now, there are people on delegations from small developing states who say they need as much protection from the big boys of the developing world as from the traditional foes.

And the argument that "we can't ask the big developing countries to cut their emissions because it'll take pressure off the developed ones" is, again, surely outdated; because it also works in reverse.

When some countries that are officially developing have higher per-capita emissions than some that are developed, it's pretty clear that any sensible route to the global target of limiting temperature rise to 2C (35.6F) has to involve cuts from the rapidly developing big emitters - maybe not right now, but in the not too distant future.

And by their Europhilia, many of the small developing countries indicated that in this context, the old alliance isn't working for them as it once did.

Future potential

And what of the most important player in this whole thing - the planet's biosphere? If it's a sick Gaia, as James Lovelock might say, how high is its temperature now?

Climate change glossary
Select a term to learn more:
Action that helps cope with the effects of climate change - for example construction of barriers to protect against rising sea levels, or conversion to crops capable of surviving high temperatures and drought.

In climate change terms, it's certainly no worse off as a result of the Durban meeting.

Whether it's better off depends on whether you prefer your glasses half full or half empty.

A number of analysts think it's a disaster because according to the mainstream projections, the emission pledges countries have made so far will take humanity to a world 4C warmer on average than in pre-industrial times by the end of the century.

And that's an average; some places could see twice that.

Equally, other analysts argue that Durban and its Platform are a triumph, because they give governments a tool with which to adjust direction, setting course for a 2C world.

But remember: all we have is an agreement to negotiate an "instrument" with "legal force".

If governments want to go for a 2C world, they can, by designing the new instrument to match up to the science they all endorse through ownership of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

If they don't, we'll see but a minor change of direction and a course still set, if the science is right, for 4C.

It's the negotiations on the new instrument that will determine ultimately whether the biosphere wins or loses from Durban, not Durban itself.

We're waiting on the Platform... darn it, I've done it already...

Richard Black, Environment correspondent Article written by Richard Black Richard Black Former environment correspondent

Farewell and thanks for reading

This is my last entry for this page - I'm leaving the BBC to work, initially, on ocean conservation issues.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    The losers, are the next generation of people who will inherit a desimated planet! The American indians had the correct approach: We are the keepers for the next generation. These days it is: We keep what we can get, and to hell with the following generations. GREED is the operative word.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    @124 Ocean oscillations don't warm or cool the climate in the long term, they do cause reflect variability though.
    @125 Read the abstract, unconvinced, as the author says correlation does not imply causation, I could probably plot the FTSE100 and get a similar effect. If they can show a causal link rather than just reeling off a list of things that might be affected people might take more notice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    130. Oh, those! Total prats I agree, but does nowt to the evidence. Misuse of science/careerism is a whole other subject.

    As I suggested earlier, read Bill Ruddiman's book - it's rounded and very long term in approach so has excellent perspective. He reckons sea levels will rise for the coming few hundred years and we'd better just get used to it. He's a retired US Geoscience professor

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    128. Jackcowper

    If you want to understand some of the methods used, try reading "Bush's Brain" for the Carl Rove methods. There is also an excellent article on the Koch brothers in the New Yorker:

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    100. Mango,

    Are you really interested in clouds? Try this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.


    if you are totally up to date then you will have read this blog

    David Appell is a science writer for the Guardian and others and is part of the AGW crowd

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    I am totally up to date, Mr Chutney - hence my comments. Google "Climategate controversy"

    What's revealed by the term "King's ransom"? King UN you suggest. Then who's doing the kidnapping?

    Canada-bashing? That seems a whole new game to me. What's the rules?
    I've got 100s of relatives in Alberta - I must ask them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    @ 127

    Any proof of that, anything I can read. (No De-Smog Blog type links please)


  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    71. Jackcowper

    Judith Curry did not list all the organizations funded by various corporate and libertarian interest groups. She also counts the money spent on data collection as part of the asymetrical effort she is concerned about. She is also seriously over estimating the funds spent by environmental groups on AGW. She seems unaware of the techniques used by Carl Rove and his predecessors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    # 118.krisbeeb

    "As for [AGW] spending... a trillion dollars is less than 1.5 dollars per person which is hardly a king's ransom."

    King's ransom. Revealing choice of words. True, the UN is not a 'king' in the traditional sense.

    P.S. See the gang's Canada bashing goes on. Won't work. Will backfire. 2011 is not 1911.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.


    Have a read of this.

    The author has sometimes posted here as Old Gifford. Fascinating stuff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Malvern @ 101

    Sorry not totally convinced by that sweeping statement. I should have also added the Ocean Oscillations, which play a big part in natural variability. With the PDO now going negative it will be interesting to see what effect this has on global temperatures. If the global temperature anomaly keep going up despite a negative PDO, i'll change my mind about the CO2 theory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    you need to keep up to date kris

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    The University of East Anglia Scandals = Climategate were two years ago, just prior to the Copenhagen Climate Conference.

    As for the people living in abject poverty so many of the solutions will improve the environment so making the land more productive and also capable of supporting better housing with better water supplies etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    I'm all for trying to reduce pollution, but at the same time I'm not going to sign on to any policy that's going to dramatically drive up the price of EVERYTHING because of exploding energy prices - not in these tough times. There must be a realistic balance between environmental and economic concerns. Kyoto is not a realistic balance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.


    "As for spending, Malvern, a trillion dollars is less than 1.5 dollars per person which is hardly a king's ransom"

    try telling that to the almost 2 billion people living in abject poverty and the many others who are borderline

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    email 5131

    Wed, 13 Feb 2008 16:46:33 -0500

    "It is inconceivable that policymakers will be willing to make billion-and trillion-dollar decisions for adaptation to the projected regional climate change based on models that do not even describe and simulate the processes that are the building blocks of climate variability."

    So, we are not talking >10 years ago, only 2 years ago

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    As for spending, Malvern, a trillion dollars is less than 1.5 dollars per person which is hardly a king's ransom
    Much of industry is awakening to the actual savings to be made by adopting low C technologies - quickly forgetting the iniquitous waste on UK solar panels!
    If the same is now achieved with private housing and transport then we're almost there.
    Climategate was two years ago, not ten!

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.


    excluding feedbacks

    but noted "Without feedbacks ~1C/doubling, but if there wasn't a large positive water vapour feedback we'd all be dead"

    the IPCC stated in 2007 that models didn't understand clouds - see next post for details showing in 2009, scientists were still questioning the ability of the models.

    Models are "all we have", then we need to stop wasting money on this farce

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    1 - excellent
    2 - including feedbacks? ~2.8C/ doubling. Without feedbacks ~1C/doubling, but if there wasn't a large positive water vapour feedback we'd all be dead.
    3- The climategate discussions took place >10 years ago, things have moved on, the improvements haven't improved the outlook much. No models are perfect but they are useful and they are all we have.


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