And finally, its over. Negotiations carried on until 3.30am this morning, and ended with the ‘Durban Deal’. It has three main features.
The Three Part Deal – KP, GCF, and … something
Firstly, the Kyoto Protocol (KP) will be extended in its current form for five years. Civil society is divided on whether this is a flop or ‘top’. Many have been wearing ‘I Love KP’ buttons, whereas others have been denouncing the KP as a mechanism of simply shifting the responsibility for carbon emissions around, and making money off the process. Simply put, the KP allows rich countries to fund carbon emission reduction in developing countries, so that the rich countries can continue to emit carbon. However, it does attach a cost to these emissions, and so it is a motivation, albeit small, for carbon emissions to be reduced.
Secondly, a Green Climate Fund (GCF) will be established, to assist developing countries, particularly those hardest hit by climate change. A problem with this is that rich countries, having historically established their economies via raw materials and slave labour from the developing world, already give aid money to these countries. So to what extent will this money simply be re-labeled GCF money?
Thirdly, there is a commitment to something, which will be agreed by 2015, and come into force by 2020. Sound a bit vague? Well, yes. And it was the wording of this one that caused the delays in the final hours. India and China were asking the developed countries to do more, since they had been polluting for so much longer, and they objected to the phrase ‘…a legal outcome’. They eventually agreed to the wording ‘… an agreed outcome with legal force’. So this just means that the 194 parties to the conference have agreed to start negotiating a new deal. This is being trumpeted as a breakthrough, a little too enthusiastically to my mind, particularly by the South African press.
Civil Society Divided
It is not only inside the negotiations that temperatures have been running high. Civil society groups have also been exchanging words and views. To my mind there are two broad categories: those who are looking to achieve the most positive outcome within the framework of COP17, and those who believe the current structures are all bad.
The former look to support those countries who are moving in the right direction, and pressurise the countries which are obstructing this. The latter criticise everyone involved, and dismiss the entire process and the outcome as a complete failure (just as they predicted).
Being in Durban left me with several impressions.
One is that it seems easier to be way on the outside throwing broad criticisms at the entire system, than to be involved and helping to build mechanisms that take us towards a better place. Its an easy, simple world of black and white. Its simpler because then there is no need to understand the intricacies of the current system or the negotiations, and it also means one can dodge responsibility to make changes in ones own behaviour. In the final days here, I was shocked to see a prominent environmentalist flick his cigarette butt into the street, before tucking into a meal of steak and lamb chops. Seeing the look on my face, he asked me why, and I replied that it didn’t seem very environmental behaviour. His response was that since they were doing nothing inside COP17, why should he?
Another impression was the rule of media. The point of demonstrators is to be seen, and a camera, preferably a TV camera, is a way to be seen by far more people than those who are present. The media are aware of this, and quite shamelessly boss demonstrators around, rearranging them to get that perfect shot. It left me wondering how many images we see in the press are accurate reflections of something that really happened.
The overall feelings in Durban have been quite negative, and it is important to also mention the genuine, committed activists who try and live what they shout, even if in an imperfect way, in an imperfect world.