The Durban Platform is a step towards a global agreement, but the risk of exceeding 3°C warming remains and the clock is still ticking.
After two weeks of exhausting and often frustrating talks, there was finally some cause for optimism. The establishment of the Durban Platform to negotiate a new global legally binding agreement by 2015, with big emitters like the United States and China in support, is a far more positive outcome than what many were expecting. The door to keep global warming below at least 2 degrees is still open- just. But, there are several blockades that must be cleared if we are to avoid 3 or 4 degrees C temperature rises and scientists remain skeptical of the commitments made.
Climate Action Tracker, an independent science-based assessment of emissions commitments and actions of countries, estimates “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.” A warming over 3°C could bring the world close to several potential global-scale tipping points, such as a possible die back of the Amazon rainforest, the irreversible loss of the Greenland ice sheets and permafrost thawing due to fast rising arctic temperatures.
Throughout the negotiations the EU played a constructive role in Durban by creating alliances with the small island states (AOSIS) and the least developed countries (LDCs), making genuine efforts to move the negotiations forward. Given the relative success of this summit, the EU now needs to urgently deal with its own low emission reduction ambition and start increasing its target well beyond 30%.
While there is now a road map for creating a legally binding agreement by 2015 with ‘legal force’, it will be meaningless without all parties involved committing to the process. The newly formed UNFCCC Ad-hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (AWG-DPEA draft document) will need support and agreement from world leaders if it is to complete the process that Durban has initiated. Countries, especially Europe, need to increase their ambitions and begin reducing emissions now.