C2ES's Diringer discusses outcome of Durban negotiations

Following last week's dramatic close to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change's conference in Durban, South Africa, what progress was made on a new treaty? During today's OnPoint, Elliot Diringer, executive vice president at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, discusses the outcome of the negotiations and the critical challenges that exist ahead of next year's meeting.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Elliot, it's great to have you back on the show.

Elliot Diringer: Good to be with you.

Monica Trauzzi: Elliot, you're just back from the UNFCCC meeting in Durban, South Africa, where a drama-filled meeting led to some modest accomplishments. How would you qualify the level of success of this meeting?

Elliot Diringer: Well, I think, Monica if you believe there's value in this process, which I do, then I think you have to be encouraged by the fact that we not only kept it intact, but actually moved it somewhat in the right direction. Is it going to solve the problem? Not by any means, but I don't think is that's a reasonable test of success for any one conference or even any one forum, like the U.N. negotiations. But the alternative actually was the whole thing falling apart and that would've been a very terrible signal for the issue and would've made it much harder to pick up the pieces and keep moving forward.

Monica Trauzzi: So, where do we stand now in terms of the future of Kyoto and how to move beyond Kyoto?

Elliot Diringer: Well, I think we're at this sort of delicate transitional moment. Years from now we may look back at this and see it as a pivotal moment. We're sort of poised between the Kyoto era, a fading Kyoto era. There was agreement to extend it one more period, but I think everybody understands that will be the last phase for Kyoto. And at the same time, governments launched a new process aiming for a new agreement by 2015 to take effect in 2020. And, you know, that was really the most controversial part of the negotiations, exactly how to frame those negotiations going forward.

Monica Trauzzi: Does the agreement have some real legal teeth to it?

Elliot Diringer: Potentially. You know, the focus was on whether to define this future agreement as legally binding. You won't find those particular words in the decision. Instead, there's some phraseology that talks about a protocol or a legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force. That certainly opens the door to legally binding, but I don't think it guarantees it.

Monica Trauzzi: Talk about the role of the E.U. in these discussions, how it compared to previous COPs and the role that Connie Hedegaard played in all of this.

Elliot Diringer: Sure, I mean, I think there were a number of fundamental conditions that produced the result we saw and the first was that, for developing countries, it was really imperative to keep Kyoto alive. And certainly, the South African government didn't want Kyoto to die on African soil. The Europeans said, well, you know, we're willing, we're willing to go into a second phase of Kyoto, but only on the condition that there is an agreement to launch this new round toward a more comprehensive and binding agreement. The U.S. was like, oh, okay, well, we may be willing, but provided that that future agreement is more balanced than Kyoto, provides equal treatment of developed and developing countries. And I think the real shift and a somewhat surprising shift, was that the major developing countries, China and India, essentially agreed. The E.U., there was speculation throughout the conference whether the E.U. would really hold fast on its demand for this new negotiation. And in the end, I think they did and I think Connie Hedegaard played a crucial role in terms of keeping the E.U. united and focused. Looking back at the history of negotiations, a lot of people think that the E.U. tends to blink in the endgame. If they did in this case, it was a very small blink.

Monica Trauzzi: Did Europe's financial problems make their way into the discussions or kind of sit in the background of the talks?

Elliot Diringer: I'd say it was more in the background. I mean everybody is certainly aware of not just what was going on in Europe, but the state of the economy globally. But I didn't see it actually entering into the discussions.

Monica Trauzzi: So, Canada made an interesting move to step away from the Kyoto Protocol and it wasn't necessarily a surprise.

Elliot Diringer: Right.

Monica Trauzzi: But the timing of it was a little surprising. What was your take on that?

Elliot Diringer: Well, I think in one sense it's a more honest position to be taking. I mean, for years, Canada has essentially flouted Kyoto. I mean they signed up to it, they ratified it, unlike the United States, but haven't really made a sincere effort to deliver the reductions that they promised in Kyoto. If they have no intention of doing that, then I think the honest thing is to say, look, we're backing out of it. I thought the timing and the manner was a little inelegant frankly. And putting the emphasis on the monetary costs of staying in, which I think are a little bit dubious, just seemed a little crass, frankly.

Monica Trauzzi: So, moving forward towards the next meeting in Qatar, what are the key challenges that you see that need to be overcome?

Elliot Diringer: Well, the second phase of Kyoto was agreed politically in Durban, but actually has to be turned into a legal amendment in Qatar at the next meeting and I think the E.U., in order for it to do that, is going to have to see some progress, some forward movement in this new track that was launched. And I think people will be coming back trying to put a little more meat on those bones and it will be interesting to see the different positioning that they take, because the phrasing definitely leaves the door open to some conflicting interpretations.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show. Nice to see you.

Elliot Diringer: Sure.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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