The Durban Platform: Progress Towards Progress on Climate Change
Last week concluded the international climate talks in Durban, South Africa and since then, I've been trying to wrap my head around what was negotiated and agreed upon. What really got my attention was when I heard this: protester and Middlebury College student Abigail Borah interrupting the talks as the US envoy prepared to make remarks. (Scroll to minute 1:10)
Aside from the protests, real negotiations did take place and agreements were reached. In the final, wee hours of the summit, world nations agreed upon the "Durban Platform". The Platform is a roadmap towards a new, binding climate treaty, much like the Kyoto Protocol. The Platform states that a new climate treaty must be hashed out by 2015 and that it will be legally-binding in 2020. And that's it...
Nothing legally binding is included in the Durban Platform, just an agreement to reconvene and create a new, legally-binding treaty in the next ten years. Despite seeming toothless and insignificant, this does signal progress. Just as in past negotiations, disagreements arose between developing and developed nations. Developing nations, especially India, argued that it is not fair to impose regulations on them that will inhibit their economic development when developed nations of the world created their strong economies without any regulations to industry in the name of CO2 emissions controls. India fought, yet failed to include language in the Platform from the original 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change stating that nations should have "common but differentiated responsibilities" for regulating CO2 emissions. The U.S. and China also advocated for an agreement that would have lighter regulations and voluntary emissions reductions targets. However, as time ran out on the conference, countries agreed upon the Durban Platform and committed to creating a future, legally-binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decade.
If this does come to pass, the Platform is significant. The U.S. signed on to create a treaty that would have legally-binding ramifications to limit its CO2 output. This is a big change from the refusal to sign onto the Kyoto Protocol back in 1997, which greatly reduced the legitimacy and effectiveness of the agreement. The U.S. has historically been reluctant to give up its sovereignty and sign on to global agreements, so this is quite a step. And China signed on too. China has been consistently slow to bind itself to such global agreements as it continues to rapidly develop.
Stepping back and looking at the whole process that created the Durban Platform--a large conference, delegates giving speeches for weeks and a last minute agreement to make a treaty--one can't help but think that this is a ton of effort for a future result that is uncertain. How effective are these high level talks? Shouldn't action be taken now? Will an effective agreement ever come to pass?
This is where the small, local everyday steps still are as valid as ever. The Durban Platform was negotiated by delegates high in governement that intend to impliment these eventual targets from the top down. That takes time. Climate change and environmental degradation are real and action can't wait. There are steps that can be taken, however, from the bottom up. Ride your bike. Plant trees. Measure your carbon footprint. Educate yourself about climate change its causes and its effects. Want to get more involved? Check out ProWorld's environmental programs around the world aimed at taking an active role in educating people about climate change and solving this challenge. Progress doesn't have to wait.
I'm mildly pleased with the progress in Durban. However, I'm reminded that in order to affect change now, the best way is to start small and local, changing our own personal habits and actions. Individual change requires no delegation, just our own will make a difference.