magnify
Home Articles posted by Lavanya Rajamani

Decoding the Durban Platform

Published on December 14, 2011        Author: 

Lavanya Rajamani is a Professor of International Law at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, India.

The Durban climate conference, marked by tension, high drama and sleepless nights, arrived 36 hours after the scheduled end of the conference, at a set of historic decisions. These include decisions to implement the Cancun Agreements, operationalize the Green Climate Fund, extend the Kyoto Protocol for a second commitment period, and launch a new process to negotiate a future climate regime. This was a ‘package deal’ in that without an agreement to negotiate a future climate regime, the EU would not have agreed to a Kyoto second commitment period.

Parties launched a process titled the Durban Platform on Enhanced Action (see here) to negotiate ‘a Protocol, another legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all.’ This instrument is scheduled to be adopted in 2015, and implemented from 2020. Although the media has interpreted this decision to mean that all ‘major emitters,’ developed and developing alike, will be legally bound to GHG emissions cuts from 2020, the tortured language used in this decision masks a vast terrain of contestations.

In the lead up to Durban several developing countries were reluctant to endorse a legally binding instrument (see previous post), however India alone held out till the last hours of the conference. India insisted that agreeing to a legally binding instrument was a Cabinet-mandated red line that it could not cross. It could agree at best to launch a process towards a ‘legal outcome’  – which would leave the precise legal form of the instrument open. A ‘legal outcome’ could encompass legally binding instruments as well as Conference of Parties decisions, which although operationally significant, are not, save in the exception, legally binding. This formulation lacked the clarity and ambition that the EU, the Alliance of Small Island States, the Least Developed Countries, many Latin American countries, and even India’s BASIC allies, Brazil and South Africa, were seeking. Critically, this was not sufficient for the EU to endorse a second commitment period. After a fast and furious ‘huddle’ in the final hours of the conference, India agreed to substitute the term ‘legal outcome’ with a marginally less ambiguous term, ‘agreed outcome with legal force,’ thus triggering the acceptance of a Kyoto second commitment period by the EU and its allies. Much of the details on Kyoto will be worked out in 2012, but Durban did give it a new lease of life.

Unlike the terms ‘Protocol’ and ‘another legal instrument’ the term, ‘agreed outcome with legal force’ does not reflexively signal a legally binding instrument. Nevertheless the overwhelming implication of these formulations as well as the political machinations surrounding it is that we are moving towards a legally binding regime. And, one in which the nature and extent of differentiation in favor of developing countries will shift considerably from the existing regime that is rooted in the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

The Durban Platform decision does not contain a reference to ‘equity’ or ‘common but differentiated responsibilities.’ This is no benign oversight.  Read the rest of this entry…

 
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
Comments Off

The Durban Climate Conference: Prospects for a Legally Binding Agreement Post 2012

Published on December 8, 2011        Author: 

Lavanya Rajamani is a Professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, India. She was previously University Lecturer in Environmental Law, University of Cambridge and Fellow & Director of Studies in Law at Queen’s College, Cambridge. She is co-editor of  ’Promoting Compliance in an Evolving Climate Regime’ (CUP, 2011), and ‘Climate Change Liability: Transnational Law and Practice’ (CUP, 2011). She has worked as a consultant to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat, the Danish Ministry of Climate Change and Energy, the UNDP, the World Bank, the Alliance of Small Island States, and the International Institute of Sustainable Development. She has worked on and followed the climate negotiations since 1997, in different capacities, including as a negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States during the negotiations for the Marrakech Accords, and as a legal advisor to the Chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long term Cooperative Action under the FCCC – the inter-governmental group tasked with arriving at an agreed outcome on climate change post-2012 – in the lead up to the Copenhagen Climate Conference, 2009.

Ever since the Bali Action Plan, 2007, launched the current phase of negotiations under the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), parties have been dithering over the legal form that the “agreed outcome” to these negotiations should take. The options range from protocols and amendments that are legally binding and can deliver the benefits of consistent application, certainty, predictability and accountability, to soft law options such as decisions taken by the Conference of Parties (COP), which, while operationally significant, are not, save in the exception, legally binding. This divisive issue has taken centre-stage at the ongoing Durban Climate Change Conference.

Many countries, including the host country, South Africa (part of the BASIC group of Brazil, South Africa, India and China) have coalesced in favour of a legally binding instrument to crystallise mitigation and other commitments that will chart the world through to a 2°C or even 1.5°C world. The Alliance of Small Island States and other vulnerable countries on the frontlines of climate impact believe that anything short of a legally binding instrument would be an affront to their grave existential crisis. The EU has indicated that they will offer the Kyoto Protocol a lifeline to ensure its survival for a transitional commitment period, conditional on the adoption at Durban of a deadline-driven roadmap towards a “global and comprehensive legally binding agreement” under the FCCC. This agreement, applicable to all, is intended to take effect post-2020.

Brazil, China and India argue that extending Kyoto is a legal obligation, not a bargaining tool to wrench further concessions from developing countries. These countries are, if at all, only willing to consider a mandate for a new legally binding instrument after the completion of the review of the long-term global goal of 2°C slated for 2015. The United States, nervous about the gathering momentum in favour of a Durban mandate, has indicated that any new legally binding instrument, if and when it becomes necessary, must incorporate symmetrical mitigation commitments, at least in form, for all significant emitters. In this they are joined by the Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and others. Needless to say, the BASIC countries will find such symmetry unpalatable.

Whatever the merits of these positions, it is worth stepping back from the ever-dire politics of the blame game, and exploring what legally binding instruments do that COP decisions cannot; why, if at all, we need such an instrument; and why developing countries, may have little to fear and much to gain from a legally binding instrument. Read the rest of this entry…

 
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
Comments Off