Negotiators Strike Wide-Ranging Deal During Extended Climate Talks in Durban


There’s a wide range of reaction to the Durban deal struck early this morning.

If you consider the important task of bringing developing countries like China and India into negotiations for some kind of legal emissions framework, while also implementing many of the priorities set in last year’s Cancun meeting, the outcome looks more positive. John Podesta, former chief of staff for the Clinton White House, and Chairman of the Board at the Center for American Progress (CAP) falls into this camp:

“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.”

However, when viewed in the context of the dire climate problem, the Durban agreements simply don’t get us to where we need to be. 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.

We’ll have more coming on the politics, implementation and science behind these targets in the coming days.


5:00 am: Tweets of the morning from Christina Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC:

After a grueling two days of negotiations with almost no rest, the international community gathered at COP 17 in Durban, South Africa was able to agree on an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, a process for negotiating internationally-binding emissions framework [note: I took out the word “target” here], and more details on an international fund for financing adaptation and mitigation projects.


Before the meeting even began, people were ready to write off the negotiations as a failure. With almost all major priorities outlined by negotiators coming into the meeting adopted, the international community has taken far bigger steps than anyone expected.

As Figueres pointed out, they are still not enough to get us on a sharply declining emissions path. And a number of environmental groups are heavily criticizing the package, saying it won’t get the job done. But it’s a decent start — and certainly far better than predicted coming into this meeting.

I’ve been updating this piece all day. But now I have to drop off and catch a plane. We’ll have plenty more analysis on how this will all be implemented soon. So stay with us.


4:50 am: Text establishing a transitional committee for a $100 billion Green Fund was just adopted. That means the major priorities that were fought for at Durban were passed.


4:45 am: The text for the Kyoto Protocol and the Long-term Cooperative Action were both adopted. Lots of clapping and cheering for adoption of the LCA — a 56-page document that outlines the frameworks for negotiations around an emissions reduction framework, an international fund for financing adaptation and mitigation, and a technology transfer program.


4:00 am: COP 17 has adopted text that would set a path for negotiating binding emissions reductions beyond 2020.

Leading into this plenary, there were major disagreements between the Europeans and the Indians on the language around establishing a new negotiations process for binding targets. At issue was the following text:

Decides that the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action shall complete its work as early as possible but no later than 2015 in order to adopt this protocol, legal instrument or legal outcome at the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties and for it to come into effect and be implemented[.]

India and other developing countries supported the term “legal outcome,” which other players — particularly the EU — had a problem with. The Indians threatened to open the entire text of the Long-term Cooperative Action document up if the term was stripped out. During a ten minute break from the meeting, it was decided that the term be changed to “legal force,” which the EU and India agreed to.


3:45 am: The meeting of the COP has begun. “Time is not on our side,” exclaimed Nkoana-Mashabane


Maite Nkoana-Mashabane: “I am making a humble, humble appeal” to work together to put this package together at 2:45 in the morning to “save the UNFCCC process.” This is about more than a climate bill. This is about saving what the UNFCCC has worked for.


2:30 am: We are still in a stock taking session before we get into the negotiations to actually hash out the text. We’ve been hearing from a variety of countries expressing support for and concerns about the text being considered. But we haven’t even considered it yet. COP 17 president Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has made a plea for countries to stop making statements, but it looks like there are a handful of countries left.


It may be late, but many of the speeches — particularly those from China and India — have been somewhat dramatic and impassioned. They’ve certainly kept people awake.

This isn’t just overtime. This is double sudden-death overtime. This is far and away the longest COP ever — and the negotiations are far from over. Expect a few more sparks to fly.


11:45: If you want a sense of the frustration and angst here in Durban, follow the #COP17 feed on twitter.

After four and a half hours of discussion, the Kyoto Protocol and the Long-Term Cooperative Action documentation will be forwarded on to the COP for consideration. The COP plenary will take place in 30 minutes.


Before recommending the passage of the LCA, the chair stressed there’s “a great deal of disappointment” with the text, sounding almost like he wasn’t going to pass it on for consideration.

U.S. Special Envoy Todd Stern expressed his support for the LCA, saying “this is obviously not a perfect agreement…and of course it can’t be.” But delaying it will “threaten to unravel” the UNFCCC process. Even though many people would like to see the document moved forward, Stern received scant applause — a sign of frustration from the belaugered crowd with the U.S. stance in the meeting.


The sessions are underway to discuss the various pieces of text developed in negotiations today. You can see the text here, and watch negotiations here.


6:50 pm: Opening of the plenary lasted about 5 minutes. You can watch the upcoming negotiations here. A statement from South Africa’s Minister of Foreign Relations Nkoana-Mashabane: “We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good….The world is watching.”

They promised the documents would be coming as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, outside the Ministerial meeting, a European Diplomat leaving the meeting: “Nobody wants to close anything until they close everything. The way this is going, yes” we will be here all night.


5:40 pm: Chief U.S. diplomat Todd Stern just left the negotiating room. A few reporters went up to ask questions, thinking that something had happened. Turns out, he was just going to the bathroom.


People are still sitting, standing, pacing around the convention center — anxiously waiting for diplomats to strike a deal. No major news to report, other than the meeting hasn’t blown up yet.

We heard constant back and forth speculation that parties were calling for an extension of the COP 17 meeting. But we’re now hearing that we could be closing in on some sort of compromise that includes a legal instrument for future international targets. Please note: that is unconfirmed. Speculation is running wild here.

There’s an informal ministerial meeting currently underway. An open plenary is supposedly planned for 6.

The best outcome, of course, would be an agreement by China to commit to negotiations for a legal framework or for binding targets. That would bring the U.S. on board, which has held out until developing countries like India and China consider emission reduction targets. If that were the case, it would also encourage the Europeans to support an extension of the Kyoto Protocol — they said they’d only agree to a Kyoto extension if a roadmap toward a binding treaty were formed.

There are many balls still in the air. Will we we catch them? Or let them fall to the ground?


3:30 pm: A coalition of youth from the political-action organization Avaaz are outside the conference hall chanting “don’t block the talks” — referencing the U.S., which they have hammered on throughout the negotiations.

Kudos to Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones for providing the picture via twitter. She clearly has a better cell phone camera.


2:50 pm: Things could get very tricky in the final hours of negotiations. Some ministers have already left. Others are trying to re-book flights at the last minute. I’ve overheard from a couple people — including Samantha Smith of WWF International quoted below — that ministers from developing countries are finding it difficult and cost-prohibitive to re-book flights.

There’s an informal ministerial meeting scheduled for 5 pm, which leaves very little time to get through all of the major priorities at hand.


2:20 pm: In the oddest moment of the day, a fake negotiating text was sent around to delegates this morning, burning up the last remaining hours of negotiating time during today’s emergency negotiations. No one is quite sure if it was a mistake, or an attempt to sabotage the talks.

Rumors have been floating around all morning, but no one could verify that there was actually a fake text. Fiona Harvey and John Vidal of the Guardian were able to actually get their hands on the text:

If the text was a forgery, it was a poor one: it was headed with the wrong date (Friday 10 December, instead of Saturday 10 December) and was printed in the wrong typeface (Arial, instead of Times New Roman) for an official document.

The president of the conference, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, was forced to issue an official denial of the text, but only after the bizarre episode had wasted valuable time.


1:20: Workers begin disassembling the conference center to prepare for the next event before any agreement at COP has been reached. Will we get kicked out before something happens?


12:48 pm: Samantha Smith, Leader of the Global Climate and Energy Initiative for WWF International, thinks we’ll leave Durban “with some of the keys unresolved and not very strong text.” Rumors of an extended meeting of COP 17 have been floating around since last night, but are still unconfirmed.

“You can lead them to water, but you can’t make them drink,” says Smith.

Meanwhile, ministers from various countries are reportedly trickling out of the conference hall, leaving for home.


12:30 pm: Jake Schmidt, international policy director for NRDC, sums up the mood at COP right now: “Everything is fuzzy at this point. We are close to a good move forward, but some key countries are still blocking. A deal has to be reached quickly or the talks in Durban could crater.”


12:05 pm: best tweet yet from today:


11:50 am: New text from for the Long-term Cooperative Action track has been released. It outlines a general agreement to “work towards identifying a global goal for substantially reducing emissions by 2050” that will be considered at the 18th session. In other words, they are working on creating a new track to establish any new mitigation targets. We call this the ad hoc working group “to be named later.” Also, no agreement on financing for REDD. It’s already approaching noon, so the window for hashing out the substance of the document is closing.


10:20 am: The plenary session has been delayed, with no schedule and no new text released as of yet. This likely means that the negotiators are hashing out details in hopes that they can go into the plenary ready to make a grand bargain.

9:30 am: Negotiators were meeting until after 5 am Durban time this morning. Late last night, new text came out for the Green Climate Fund and the Kyoto Protocol. These are still being worked out. Also being considered is the possibly of a framework for starting negotiations on emissions targets — whether “legally binding,” a looser “legal framework” or a new protocol. The talks have spilled over for an open, high-level session Saturday, and will likely go all day.

The next high-level plenary was set to start at 10 am Durban time, and we’re expecting 5–6 hours of session. Some are speculating whether the parties will be able to agree on text before the end of the day.

Many are concerned that the meeting could blow up, or we could simply run out of time. If the U.S. doesn’t agree to a process that ends in a new binding agreement, the Europeans may pull out of Kyoto. If that happens, developing countries could block some of the other important frameworks like the Green Climate Fund (which is now mostly agreed to). Anything could happen at this point.

For an overview of how things may play out, check out Andrew Light’s analysis from last night. Not much has changed since.

If you want to read any of the new text, you can find it on the right-hand column of the UNFCCC page. If you want to watch the plenary online, you can find it here (Baobab).