News from South Africa: outcomes of the United Nations Climate Change meeting

Originally scheduled to end on Friday, December 9th, after twelve days of intense talks, the COP17 climate change meeting went into overtime until negotiators eventually came to an agreement in the early hours of Sunday, December 11th 2011. Governments the world over are lauding the progress made on the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, the Green Climate Fund and the new market mechanisms. However, some NGOs, environmental activists and other lobbyists have raised concerns that the COP17 outcomes are not in the best interests of all nations and that these resolutions will do little to lessen carbon emissions or reduce environmental degradation. Is the new climate deal a cop out, and what does it mean for sustainable development on the Continent?

The 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 7th Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties (CMP7) to the Kyoto Protocol convened in Durban, South Africa. The main outcome is the agreement of countries to adopt a universal climate change agreement by 2015, though this will likely not come into force until 2020. Will this date allow us to restrict global temperature increases to just 2 ºC? The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action will iron out the details of how to implement the new set targets, and although the final UN report is not yet available, it is worth surveying the highlights of the climate change agreements.

Support of developing country action

The support of developing country action outcome will be of particular interest to the eLearning community. The United Nations Climate Change Secretariat announced: “Governments agreed a registry to record developing country mitigation actions that seek financial support and to match these with support. The registry will be a flexible, dynamic, web-based platform.” The final report is not available at the time of writing, but such a platform would allow for those who do not ordinarily have room at the negotiating table to be part of the decision-making process. Such a mechanism has already been established for the Biosafety Clearing-House, a United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) initiative. Although each country has a designated Focal Point liaising with UNEP, the platform allows for information sharing and international collaboration, thus giving ordinary people a voice. Such a platform for climate change policy implementation would perhaps be one way to bridge the rift between parties that have vastly differing interests.

Kyoto revisited

The United Nations Climate Change Secretariat announced on December 11 that the commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol had been extended to January 1st, 2013, a date agreed upon by 35 industrialised countries. “To achieve rapid clarity, Parties to this second period will turn their economy-wide targets into quantified emission limitation or reduction objectives and submit them for review by May 1, 2012.” Observers such as the Friends of the Earth have deplored this decision saying, “The Kyoto Protocol is the only existing international framework for legally-binding emissions reductions by rich industrialised countries. These countries are responsible for three quarters of the emissions in the atmosphere despite only hosting 15% of the world’s population. The second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol has still not been formally agreed and would only cover the European Union and a handful of other developed countries.” How the Durban Platform addresses these divergent interpretations will be a matter to watch closely.

The Green Climate Fund

Following on from the recommendation at COP16/CMP6 in Cancun, Mexico, a package will be put together to support those countries most vulnerable to climate change. “This means that urgent support for the developing world, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable to adapt to climate change, will also be launched on time,” said Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is indeed an issue that resonates with all those whose livelihoods are directly dependant on subsistence farming, people with a low carbon footprint who nevertheless bear the brunt of the Earth’s changing climate.

Sustainability is the theme of eLearning Africa 2012, and matters of how approach eLearning for environmental conservation will be a hot topic. Sustainable development extends to all spheres: the cultural, economic, social, and material, and using eLearning to build strong communities is a subject to be tackled by ICT experts, researchers, and practitioners at the Continent’s largest annual eLearning conference.

For more information on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, see http://unfccc.int/meetings/durban_nov_2011/meeting/6245.php




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