So we generally grade ourselves on the basis of what we think was plausibly achievable, not what is theoretically possible.
On that basis, the Durban Agreement or Durban Platform (details here) was a pretty big success, committing the entire world — not just rich countries — to develop a roadmap for reductions, along with a serious Green Climate Fund. It’s worth noting that the alternative was not a binding agreement to stabilize at 2°C ( 3.6°F) warming, but a complete collapse of the international negotiating process.
On the other hand, from the perspective of what is needed to avert catastrophic climate change, the agreement was, sadly, lacking. As noted earlier, Climate Action Tracker analyzed the impact of the frameworks agreed upon at COP17:
The agreement in Durban to establish a new body to negotiate a global agreement (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) by 2015 represents a major step forward. The Climate Action Tracker scientists stated, however, that the agreement will not immediately affect the emissions outlook for 2020 and has postponed decisions on further emission reductions. They warned that catching up on this postponed action will be increasingly costly.
The Climate Action Tracker estimates that global mean warming would reach about 3.5°C by 2100 with the current reduction proposals on the table. They are definitely insufficient to limit temperature increase to 2°C.
Recent science suggests that if you go substantially above the 2C target (450 ppm), it becomes increasingly hard to stop at some intermediate level of warming, like 3.5C (600 ppm of CO2) because of the carbon-cycle feedbacks (see “Nature: Climate Experts Warn Thawing Permafrost Could Cause 2.5 Times the Warming of Deforestation!” and links therein). And you probably lose the Greenland ice sheet, albeit over a long time (see New study of Greenland under “more realistic forcings” concludes “collapse of the ice-sheet was found to occur between 400 and 560 ppm”). And you likely turn large parts of the arable and habited land of the world — including the U.S. Southwest — into dust-bowls, with devastating consequences for our ability to feed 9 billion people by midcentury.
And let’s remember what the formerly staid International Energy Agency reported last month about delaying action until 2020:
Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.”
Of course, you can make the argument that no target-based deal was possible because the U.S. simply can’t commit to one, primarily because of the fatal decision by U.S. conservatives to embrace climate science denial and demagogue all climate action. But that table scrap won’t feed anybody in the year 2040.
That said, we needed to get China onboard an international climate regime to ever have a shot of getting a climate deal that would pass muster in the United States.
I’m very interested in your thoughts on the agreement.
Here’s what Center for American Progress Chair John Podesta and CAP Senior Fellow Andrew Light (who was in Durban) had to say:
John Podesta: “I want to congratulate Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change, and his team on a successful outcome at Durban and applaud the strong interagency process that the administration employed to shape this agreement. The Obama administration saw an excellent opportunity here to push China into an agreement to play by the same rules as everyone else and took it. China is in line to be the world’s biggest cumulative emitter by mid-century and as early as 2035. From the perspective of solving this problem we cannot get to any workable resolution unless we can trust the reductions China takes and have a roadmap to get them to strengthen their ambition.”
Andrew Light, CAP’s Director of International Climate Policy: “The Durban outcome succeeded in accomplishing many things, most importantly advancing the implementing document of the Green Climate Fund so that it will become a reality in the coming year. The new fund will anchor a global compact to advance mitigation and adaptation efforts in response to a warmer world. Equally important, it is designed to become the key instrument for mobilizing private capital to advance sustainable prosperity around the world. From the point of view of getting additional tons of carbon out of the global system during this decade the new roadmap will start a process but cannot result in an additional reduction of emissions until after 2020. In contrast, the Green Climate Fund, in conjunction with other instruments that resulted from last year’s successful Cancun meeting, can soon begin working to advance projects around the world that could get additional emission reductions above and beyond those that countries have already pledged to do themselves. The U.S. Treasury Department and State Department deserve credit for engaging with the global community to produce an inspiring outcome.”