With ‘Grave Concern,’ Durban Decision Officially Recognizes U.N. Process Is Not Doing Enough

US climate envoy Todd Stern addresses COP17.

As CAP’s Andrew Light and Joe Romm discuss, the deal crafted in Durban, South Africa preserved the international climate negotiating process and moved several critical institutions forward, most notably the Green Climate Fund to finance the self-preservation of the most vulnerable nations against climate disasters.

However, for the first time the negotiators explicitly and formally recognized the cold fact of the insufficiency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreements, coming into their 20th year:

Recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires to be urgently addressed by all Parties, and acknowledging that the global nature of climate change calls for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, with a view to accelerating the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions,

Noting with grave concern the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with having a likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

This formal admission that the combined effect of Kyoto Protocol and the Cancun Agreements leaves a “significant gap” from the “urgent and potentially irreversible threat” of further warming is a critical admission. This marks a dramatic shift from earlier statements made by the United States team, who questioned the urgency of greater cuts to carbon pollution than already agreed in Kyoto and Cancun.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol set mandatory limits on carbon pollution covering the industrialized world other than the United States, and the Cancun Accords adopted in 2010 sets voluntary limits covering the United States, China, and other major polluters. Together, their insufficient ambition leaves the world hurtling on a path towards unimaginable suffering, a terrible statement about the futility of negotiating with the laws of nature, and the stark contrast between political and physical reality.

The formal admission of this insufficiency is a small but crucial step towards the required global mobilization to survive on our changing planet.

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