The 17th session of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP), is scheduled to open in Durban, South Africa, next week, on November 28.
The accelerating need for action and agreement is at odds with the pace of the negotiations. Just last week, the IPCC released a report that confirms the risks and costs associated with climate change.
The COP 17 host continent, Africa, is particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts. Lou Leonard, leader of Climate Change at WWF, acknowledges that the U.S. too is vulnerable: "The U.S. had 14 billion-dollar natural disaster events this past year; the costs to governments and industry just keep ballooning." Even so, COP talks have not yet yielded a legally binding protocol to reduce climate change impacts and enable adaptation.
International policymakers have been as stalled by partisan interests as our national leaders. Expectations for this year's U.N. conference are mixed. Ernst and Young reports in "Durban Dynamics: Navigating for progress on climate change" that although the majority of business executives see binding international agreements on emissions cuts as essential, few believe it will happen in Durban.
So, why then pay attention to COP 17?
The Climate Action Network hosted a conference last week in which industry and NGO leaders highlighted four reasons:
1. The Kyoto Protocol is not the end game.
There is a risk that the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N.'s first ambitious attempt to secure multi-lateral commitment on GHG reductions, might collapse. Yet for many insiders, the Kyoto Protocol is not the end all. The focus has shifted to building a framework that better enables agreement.
According to several NGO leaders, the Cancun talks successfully laid the foundation for such a framework. "We are not going to get a treaty in Durban," states Lou Leonard flatly. "It's more important now that we lay out a road map and a mandate by which we will get agreement."
There is clear recognition that such a road map -- with financing, technology and other considerations -- will require more cross sector effort and more than just government investments. As for the Protocol, the real risk is perceived collapse of climate change negotiations.
2. COP 17 will be "The Finance Talks."
Past COPs have made it clear that establishing funding parameters and identifying funding sources for clean energy, emission mitigation, and adaptation is critical. COP 17 will focus on the Green Climate Fund.