I’ve been blogging a lot over the last few months. Just, not here. I attended the United Nations climate change conference, the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in Durban in November and December, and blogged about it for the New Zealand Youth Delegation and Adopt a Negotiator. I’ve also put up a guest blog on the UN Youth site.
Over the coming weeks, I will put up some reflections here on the links between climate change and both human and animal rights. I will also reflect on some of the things I have learned through the COP process.
But, first, a bit of background. New Zealand’s media has been typically quiet about the Conference. So, a quick summary.
In 1992, at the Rio Conference, States negotiated and drafted the UNFCCC, which entered force in 1994. It aimed for the Parties (now, 194 of them in total) to stabilise their emissions at 1990 levels by 2000. Twenty years on from Rio (with Rio+20 approaching fast), it is one of the cornerstone documents in international environmental law. It defined climate change as a “common but differentiated responsibility” of humankind: All States have a shared responsibility to address climate change, but some have a greater responsibility to do so, because they have more capacity and emitted more in the past.
In 1997, at COP3 in Kyoto, the Parties negotiated a binding treaty to operate under the UNFCCC: The Kyoto Protocol. While the UNFCCC set general goals, principles and ambitions, the Protocol imposed binding emissions reductions targets on States in the global north for the commitment period 2008-2012. The Protocol was strengthened by the 2001 Marrakesh Accords and entered force in 2005. By 2011, 191 States had ratified Kyoto.
Each year since 1994, there has been a Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UNFCCC. Durban, therefore, was COP17, the seventeenth Conference of the Parties. Each COP since 2005 has served as both a Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC and a Meeting of the Parties of the Kyoto Protocol (so referred to as a COP/MOP – seriously – or a COP/CMP – there’s a whole booklet of these acronyms).
From the dates above, two things should be obvious. First, climate change negotiations are slow. Second, things must have been getting pretty uncertain about that whole Kyoto Protocol thing by the time Durban rolled around in late 2011, seeing as it imposed no obligations past 2012.
In 2007, at COP13 in Bali, the Parties agreed to a roadmap for a new binding agreement to replace Kyoto to be agreed at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. At Copenhagen, tens of thousands of people attended to demand a fair, ambitious and binding deal.
The conference, however, failed. Even the logistics were disastrous. New Zealand Youth Delegation member Rachel Dobric told me about standing outside for hours in the snow, being fed coffee by the Danish National Guard. In Cancun in 2010, halting progress was made towards a new deal, and progress was made on side issues.
At Durban, then, there were two main issues up for debate (in short: would there be a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol and what would happen after Kyoto?) along with a plethora of other issues – technology transfer and climate financing being key examples. So that’s the background.
But let’s make this a bit more real. COP17 was three city blocks surrounded by security fences and guarded by blue-shirted and heavily-armed UN security. COP17 was negotiators from over 190 states along with thousands of non-governmental representatives, from environmental organisations, businesses, and universities – including over 1,000 people from youth organisations. COP17 was – and this is not being melodramatic – the last chance for States to agree to a treaty that could limit climate change to less than an average global temperature rise of two degrees.
The outcome was not what it should have been.