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…