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Durban talks: how Connie Hedegaard got countries to agree on climate deal December 11, 2011

Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate chief, has been hailed the hero of the Durban meeting that reached an unexpectedly solid outcome in the early hours of Sunday .

“She is very, very good and we are very lucky to have her,” says Chris Huhne, the UK energy and climate change secretary. “She held everything together in a very impressive manner – a class act.”

Hedegaard, below, once the youngest person elected to the Danish parliament, was the architect of the EU plan to gather developed and developing economies together for the first time in a legally binding agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions. A deal was struck that met nearly all of the EU’s aims, satisfied most developing countries and even brought the US on board.

In doing so, Hedegaard saved the UN process of negotiations, which without a deal at Durban would have fallen apart. Hedegaard’s manoeuvring also forced China to acknowledge that it will take on commitments on an equal legal footing to developed countries.

“You could hear the shifting of tectonic plates,” said one diplomat. “This is hugely important not just for the climate talks but in geopolitical terms.”

Key to her success was the hardline attitude Hedegaard adopted. Developing countries, including China, have long insisted that the 1997 Kyoto protocol should be extended when its current targets run out in 2012. EU member states are virtually the only countries willing to do so. But while some member states wanted to offer the extension as a matter of course, Hedegaard had other ideas – it would only be agreed if developing countries also signed up to her roadmap.

That would entail committing to curb emissions on the same legally binding footing as the rich world, as an acknowledgement that the distinctions between developed and emerging economies have changed since 1997, when the Kyoto protocol was drawn up. This also made it possible for the US to join in, because America had insisted it will only join up to any agreement on the basis of such legal parity.Hedegaard knows about negotiations failing – as Denmark’s environment minister since 2004, she was the host and president of the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit.

There she witnessed, excruciatingly, at firsthand the embarrassment of the EU at the hands of the US and the BASIC countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China — when President Obama took his counterparts behind the scenes to forge a deal on emissions that left out the EU. European and UN officials were left visibly flummoxed as Obama announced his deal to the media. That deal was instantly denounced as weak, because countries had not agreed that it was legally enforceable, and the summit ended in scenes of chaos and acrimony.

Durban was Hedegaard’s chance to raise a new phoenix from the ashes of the Copenhagen conflagration. And she was determined to do so.

At stake was the whole process of United Nations climate negotiations. The Kyoto protocol was signed in 1997 by all countries, including the US. But the Clinton administration was unable to put it put before Congress because opposition to it was so strong. Since then, the UN talks have been in trouble. Without the active participation of the US – now the second biggest emitter – they could not succeed.

Hedegaard’s roadmap was crafted in the back offices of the European commission, and she embarked on private meetings with ministers in big and small countries. In October, she had it rubber-stamped by the EU member states.

Despite the battering she received in the conference – from Indian and Chinese ministers, who attacked the EU for trying to strongarm them — she held her nerve. Up to the last moment, negotiators for other countries were briefing that the EU would cave in, and concede that an agreement was not possible. But in the final minutes, the EU agreed a phrase that it said would ensure future commitments were binding. – they would take the form of “an agreed outcome with legal force”.

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Durban Climate Talks Produce Imperfect Deals

Negotiators at the U.N. climate conference in South Africa have approved a package of agreements to combat global climate change.

While the deal is a step forward, observers say more should have been accomplished.

After hours of political wrangling and compromise on all sides, delegates emerged from an all-night session Sunday with a way forward on climate change.

Going into the last-minute negotiations, the South African president of the conference, Maite Nkoana Mashabane told delegates the package of deals would not please everyone.

“I think we all realize they’re not perfect, but we should not let the perfect become the enemy of the good and the possible,” he said.

Among the biggest achievements was the approval of a European Union plan to negotiate a future legal deal to combat climate change.

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard lobbied fiercely for the so-called EU “roadmap,” saying, “We are on the brink, it is within our reach to get what the world is waiting for and what only few thought would happen now: a legally binding deal,” said Hedegaard.

The agreement calls for parties to end negotiations on a future pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2015 and to implement the new regime no later than 2020.

Emotions ran high in the middle-of-the-night plenary session about plans for the future agreement.

Karl Hood of Grenada, representing a coalition of small island states took issue with the language in the draft text, which did not specify what legal form the agreement would take.

“And if there is no legal instrument by which we can make countries responsible for their actions then, Madame Chair, I’m saying that we are relegating vulnerable economies to the whims and fancies of beautiful words like ‘self-determination’ like ‘access to development’; while they develop, we die in the process,” said Hood.

The future deal will replace the Kyoto Protocol – an existing legal framework that was enacted in 2007 and was due to expire next year.

Governments that are part of Kyoto, including the EU, agreed in Durban to a second commitment period to the protocol that will last five to eight years, though Russia, Japan and Canada have said they will not take part.

The conference did not produce any immediate promises to further cut emissions blamed for climate change.

Tim Gore, the climate policy advisor for Oxfam, said developing countries will not benefit much from the deals passed here in Durban.

“They didn’t get a great deal out of this, I think this was largely an agreement which was struck between the big boys, between the U.S., the European Union, perhaps some of the emergency economies did a deal on a future legal agreement, and that’s significant, but it hasn’t necessarily delivered the action that the very poorest countries, and the poorest people within them, need here and now,” said Gore.

Parties also agreed in Durban to put into operation a Green Climate Fund, which is to provide assistance to developing nations for environmental projects.  However, there was no agreement on how to actually finance the Fund, so, for the time being it remains an empty shell.

Some of these issues will likely be addressed again at the U.N. climate conference next year in Qatar.

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Deal in Doubt as Durban Talks Wind Down December 10, 2011

Time is running out for a major deal to tackle climate change at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in South Africa, and observers say the world’s biggest emitters are continuing to hold up progress on a new agreement to cut emissions.

Delegates at COP17 are continuing to work on details of a European Union proposal toward a new global commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The so-called EU “roadmap” would set a deadline for a new deal to be agreed to by 2015 and to be implemented by 2020.

With few hours left to negotiate, EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said compromises must be reached.

“If there is no further movement from what I have seen until four o’clock this morning, then I must say I don’t think there will be a deal in Durban,” said Hedegaard.

But, she added, all hope is not lost.

“Now it’s not the first time in a COP that [by] Thursday night you’d not have the deal,” she said. “So that is why I emphasize there still is time to move and I must say there have been a lot of constructive talks.”

The European Union issued a joint statement with a grouping of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the Association of Small Island States, supporting the European roadmap and calling for more ambitious action from other countries.

Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said development and similar statements from other countries are encouraging, but that more ambition is needed.

“Everything seems possible today, but it’s not done. We have a lot more work to get done,” he said. “But it’s on the table [and] we’ve seen movement. The developments I talked about with the small island state coalition and the LDCs and the movements from South Africa and Brazil are encouraging, but without the U.S., China and India, they’re not enough.”

The EU has indicated that the world’s three biggest polluters, China, India and the United States, have been slowing down the pace of negotiations on a roadmap to a future agreement.

Hedegaard said the major sticking points are what legal form the final agreement would take and whether there will be a two-track arrangement so that some countries are legally bound while others commit to voluntary emissions cuts.

Other negotiations are continuing on a proposal to provide $100 billion in long-term financing to developing nations for environmental projects. So far delegates have only begun sorting out the terms of the deal, with no reported progress on how to actually finance it.

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Durban climate talks see US back EU proposal December 8, 2011

The prospects of a last-minute deal on climate change have emerged at the UN talks in Durban, as the US threw its weight behind the European Union’s proposal for a roadmap towards a new global agreement.

All eyes are now on China, the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, which has yet to back the proposal, and according to some insiders has been giving conflicting signals.

Other big developing countries such as Brazil and South Africa have said they are willing to discuss the proposed programme, though India has rejected it.

With only a day and a half of negotiating time left to run, the words of support from the US on Thursday came as a surprise to the conference. Todd Stern, US special envoy for climate change, told a press conference: “The EU has called for a roadmap. We support that.”

According to the proposal, negotiations should begin soon on a potential new global agreement by which all the world’s major emitters – both developed and developing countries – would make commitments to cut emissions, starting from 2020. Although the EU wants to set a firm date of 2015 for signing up to such an agreement, the US is reluctant to agree to specific dates yet but wants negotiations to start “promptly”.

Connie Hedegaard, Europe‘s climate commissioner, said: “It is very encouraging that the EU’s roadmap is the focus of the intense negotiations here in Durban.”

The EU also wants that new agreement to be legally binding at a global level – that is, a full international treaty – but the US has not agreed to that, though it left the door open. Stern said: “If we get the kind of roadmap that countries have called for – the EU has called for, that the US supports – for preparing for and negotiating a future regime, whether it ends up being legally binding or not, we don’t know yet, but we are strongly committed to a promptly starting process to move forward on that.”

US officials insisted that Stern’s position had not changed, as he has consistently said he would be open to discussions that could lead to a new accord that could be legally binding, or not. But until now he had not expressed clear support and had avoided the word “roadmap”, a term the US tends to dislike because it implies a fixed route and destination.

The US also insists that the agreement be equally legally binding on all major emitters – that is, if the US and the EU take on legal commitments, so must China. It is still far from certain that China will acquiesce, though its head of delegation told journalists in the week that China was willing to sign up to “a legal document”.

Chris Huhne, the climate change secretary, said: “The key point is that if China sees a way to making a big step forward in living up to its international responsibilities then I think we will see similar commitments right the way across key players, including the US.”

Other countries at the talks are also swinging behind the EU plan, with the Alliance of Small Island States broadly in favour but with important reservations, and many African countries behind it.

Among developed countries, Japan has said it also wants negotiations on a new legally binding treaty to begin, though it has not indicated a firm timeline. Australia said it would sign up if major emitters did, while Canada, however, may still hold out.

In return for support for a treaty to begin to “bite” in 2020, the EU is offering to extend the Kyoto protocol – the only existing global legally binding treaty stipulating emissions cuts – beyond the current commitment period which ends in 2012. It is the only major rich country bloc to do so.

The issue of whether an agreement is legally binding is a crucial one at the talks. Many countries are saying that any agreement take the form of a fully articulated international treaty because they fear that some will otherwisse renege on their commitments.

The EU has pegged 2020 as the “latest” start date for any new climate agreement, because most of the world’s countries – including all the biggest emitters, both developed and developing – already have national commitments running to 2020, under deals struck in Copenhagen in 2009 and last year in Cancún.

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China Seeks Legally Binding Climate Pact December 6, 2011

The head of the Chinese delegation at U.N. climate talks in South Africa has signaled the country is willing to accept a legally binding agreement to cut emissions. While a deal would not come until after 2020, many at the conference hope China’s move will influence other major polluters and developing nations.

The European Union has been urging other governments at the U.N. climate conference, known as COP17, to adopt legally binding mandates to cut carbon emissions blamed for global climate change.

The EU commissioner for climate change, Connie Hedegaard, said the European delegation would discuss the effort with the world’s biggest polluter – China.

“China has always been in favor of a legally binding outcome, and that is the key question to China – that is – will a legally binding deal mean that China is also equally legally bound,” said Hedegaard.

The head of the Chinese delegation, Xie Zhenhua, answered this question by saying China would agree to a deal if certain preconditions were met.

They include that the European Union agree to a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, which requires nations to cut carbon emissions, and that the terms of a legal deal would differentiate based on each country’s “national capability.”

Speaking through an interpreter, Xie also said governments should first fulfill the reduction pledges they made at the last two climate summits in Copenhagen and Cancun before considering a legally binding deal, no sooner than 2020.

As the Chinese delegation briefed reporters on the ground floor of Durban’s International Conference Center, upstairs, the leaders of civil society groups led a news conference outlining their complaints about the U.S. position at the talks.

The United States, which is the second-largest polluter behind China, is opposed to legally binding mandates to cut emissions, and has said the current emission reduction targets do not need to be reconsidered until 2020.

Some members of the panel suggested that China’s willingness to agree to a legal framework to cut emissions could help motivate other countries.

Kumi Naidoo is the executive director of Greenpeace International.

“I think that China and the U.S. need to actually have a conversation here on the ground and maybe, in fact, it’s not a conversation that happens between negotiators, but maybe it’s Hu Jintao and President Barack Obama talking at a senior level, because don’t forget that the theater is not simply here of the struggle, it’s happening in the capitals back home,” said Naidoo.

China and the United States have actually outlined similar policies here at COP17. They have both called on countries to meet targets set at the previous conference before discussing further action. China says it has set a target to cut emissions by 17 percent in the next five years, while the United States has committed to cut the same amount by 2020.

But the United States has been accused of holding up progress at the talks, while China’s policy has been warmly welcomed.

Harjeet Singh, “climate justice coordinator” for the group ActionAid, says the difference is that compared to the United States, China has a much more ambitious climate policy.

“They have put some very strong stringent laws in place, they are making sure that their industries are much much less polluting,” said Singh. “Look at the investments that they’ve made in green technology and all this is happening when China is not under any legally binding agreement, and it has done a lot on its own.”

Despite China’s efforts, a new report from the Global Carbon Project, a group of scientists linked to Britain’s University of East Anglia, says emerging economies, including China, have contributed to the biggest yearly increase in carbon emissions on record.

The report, published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change, says carbon dioxide emissions rose by 5.9 percent worldwide in 2010, despite a brief dip in air pollution during the global financial crisis.

According to the report, China’s emissions alone rose by 10.4 percent.

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