Figueres and Zuma welcome the COP

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres and South African President Jacob Zuma welcome the COP (Source: IISD)

COP17 kicked off at the Durban International Convention Centre (ICC) with a Welcome Ceremony attended by South African President Jacob Zuma and other dignitaries. Delegates from across the globe have gathered here to debate the future of the Kyoto Protocol and outline the next steps in the international climate change arena. Opening plenary meetings of the COP, COP/MOP, SBI and SBSTA were conducted and parties gave initial consideration to the various agenda items, referring many issues to contact groups for further consideration. South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, was elected COP 17 and COP/MOP 7 President and urged for negotiations at Durban to be ‘transparent, inclusive, fair and equitable’. A Welcome Reception in Durban’s beautiful City Hall was also very well received.

Many issues will be discussed at COP17, including the operationalization of several decisions that came out of the Cancun negotiations in 2010. Particular attention will be paid to the potential for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol which expires in December 2012.  Skepticism and speculation have been floating on the ability of COP 17 to deliver on any final and solid next steps for Kyoto. Also on the table is the Green Climate Fund which aims to support climate change action and adaptation. Created last year at COP 16, discussions by the Transitional Committee for the design and transparency of the fund in October failed to find consensus and will potentially prove a divisive topic in Durban. 


  • Press Release: Decision on the host of COP 18/CMP 8
  • Press Release: UN Climate Change Conference in Durban kicks off with South African President calling on governments to “save tomorrow today”
  • Opening address by Christiana Figueres at COP 17 / CMP 7
  • Opening address by his Excellency President Jacob Zuma at COP 17 / CMP 7
  • Opening statement by incoming COP 17/CMP 7 President, Minister Nkoana-Mashabane at COP 17 / CMP 7
Climate Action Network intervening at AWG-KP

David Turnball, Climate Action Network, intervening during the AWG-KP plenary (Source: IISD)

The second day of COP17 saw the opening sessions of  the ad-hoc working groups (AWG) of the LCA and KP and the continuation of the work under the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI). LCA 14 chair, Daniel Reifsnyder, opened by recalling  the goal for a “comprehensive, balanced and robust outcome to the COP.” The EU called for a process with the end goal of a legally binding framework to be completed by 2015. Other countries also expressed concerns and interests on behalf of the groups they represented; Argentina for the G77/China urged outcomes to fulfill the Convention’s objectives and highlighted the need for developed country public funds for long-term finance. The parties began informal working groups to address issues on the agenda outside of the AWG meetings; mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer, review, legal options, and other matters.

In the AWG-KP, Argentina for the G77/China highlighted that the current pledged emission reductions from developed countries are insufficient. Additionally, G77/China, AOSIS, the African Group, and LDCs called for a second commitment period to the protocol. During this meeting, comments from BINGOS, ENGOS, and indigenous peoples were also heard. BINGOS called for encouraging private sector investment in ‘clean’ development, ENGOS wanted LULUCF loopholes to be closed and indigenous peoples requested that the protocol be strengthened, as well as, include indigenous knowledge as a resource for climate change response. According to circulating rumors, which were reiterated by Saudi Arabia in the AWG-LCA, some countries are forming coalitions to block progress on “certain issues” and one of the targets may be the Green Climate Fund.

The SBI began with opening statements and discussions about capacity building for developing counties. The G-77+China speaker expressed concerns about GEF funding conditions and access while Gambia, on behalf of the LDCs, was concerned that the GEF appeared to dictate which operating entity they should use. Additional agenda items including loss and damage, technology transfer, and the financial mechanism were forwarded to contact groups or informal groups for further consideration.

It was announced that Qatar will host next year’s COP 18 conference.


Christiana Figueres, Head of UNFCCC speaks at COP17 COPpuccino SABC News: COP17 Nations, 29 Nov 2011

On day 3 of the meetings in Durban, COP and COP/MOP plenaries convened as well as contact groups and informal consultations under the SBI, SBSTA, AWG-KP, and AWG-LCA.

GCF TC Co-Chair

Trevor Manuel, Co-Chair of the GCF TC (Source: IISD)

Within the COP plenary, delegates heard reports from the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and the Green Climate Fund’s (GCF) Transitional Committee, along with proposals for amendments to the Convention and future sessions. 

  • Qatar confirmed that the will host COP18 while the Republic of Korea would host the pre-COP ministerial meeting. 
  • The TEC chair reported on their September meeting in Bonn and India suggested that the term of the TEC be extended by a year. 
  • Under Articles 15 & 16 of the Convention, Mexico proposed to include a “last resort” vote should consensus fail on issues that carry broad support. The Russian Federation pushed for a periodic review of the countries listed in Annexes I & II but this was opposed by Saudi Arabia. 
  • In addition, countries shared their thoughts on the proposed instrument in the draft Green Climate Fund (GCF) report, highlighting some the shortcomings of the fund. Venezuela indicated, “alarm over certain elements of the report, which would hinder democratic access to resources” while Australia expressed willingness to approve the document “as is”. The COP Presidency will undertake informal consultations based on the draft recommendations in the Transitional Committee report.

The COP/MOP plenary session focused on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Joint Implementation (JI), the Adaptation Fund, as well as proposals for amendments to the Kyoto Protocol and a proposal from Kazakhstan.

  • On the subject of the CDM, the Chair urged a clear signal on the CDM’s future. The World Bank received some support in its proposal to continue standardization of baselines, monitoring and verifications aspects. Others said that the CDM’s future was contingent on a second commitment period, stressed the need for a better regional distribution of projects, or highlighted that some CDM projects are contributing towards human rights abuses.
  • The Joint Implementation Supervisory Committee (JISC) chair noted that the JISC has made much progress since Cancun.  The JISC recommends replacing the current two-track approach, establishing a new governing body, and providing clarity on the continuation of JI beyond 2012.
  • The Adaptation Fund Board chair emphasized the overshadowing of falling prices of CERs on institutional progress whereas the G-77+China expressed disappointment in the small amount of money that has been set aside for adaptation.

Within informal consultations under the AWG-LCA and it was decided that parties will meet in ‘informal informal’ sessions to work on the shared vision document for long-term cooperative action with direct country representation. Parties also discussed developed and developing country mitigation, adaptation, and market approaches.


Press briefing on status of negotiations – Durban, 30 November 2011

Saudi Arabia intervening on the GCF plenary

Mohammad Al Sabban, Saudi Arabia, intervening on the Green Climate Fund (Source: IISD)

On Day 4 of the negotiations in Durban, delegates met in contact groups and informal consultations for consideration of agenda items under the COP, COP/MOP, AWG-LCA, AWG-KP, SBI and SBSTA and began work on the negotiating texts. Items under discussion included the CDM, compliance, national adaptation plans, AWG-LCA stocktaking, legal options, finance, REDD+, response measures, and loss and damage. In addition, negotiators considered decision text from the Technology Executive Committee (TEC), as well as the report of the Adaptation Fund Board.

In all, more than fifty items were up for consideration on Thursday, creating a fast and somewhat hectic pace to the day’s events. The subject of REDD+ showed positive movement, welcoming a non-paper that advances the Cancun Agreements’ mandate and some delegates going so far as to suggest bringing forward issues not slated for consideration until COP 18 in Qatar.

Delegates have been asked to move beyond fixed positions and think creatively about the bigger picture. “With key parties holding such strong bottom-line positions, we’re definitely walking a minefield here,” stated one negotiator. Several countries appear up to the challenge, however, having hinted at options for a cross-cutting package.


Christiana Figueres, Executive Director of UNFCCC takes questions at COPpuccino

Bunker Tax youth

Youth ask delegates to get on board with the bunker tax. (Source: IISD)

During Day 5 of the negotiations, delegates continued  to work on draft texts within contact groups and informal consultations, some throughout the night, as Parties attempt to solidify what will become the basis for any agreements that result from Durban. In addition to topics discussed on Day 4 were discussions over LULUCF, sectoral approaches, and loss and damage. Two draft decisions for agenda items related to compliance have been agreed and will be forwarded to the CMP for consideration and adoption.

The negotiations saw mixed progress by Friday evening. While agendas of the SBSTA and SBI are moving along steadily, the AWG-KP and AWG-LCA have been less certain. Defining lines of the negotiations appear to be improving although some Parties appear to be maintaining long-held positions and posturing despite time running out.

Week in Review

Over recent days civil society and the world’s most vulnerable countries have been emphasizing the need for urgency in the talks. Yesterday, negotiators from AOSIS and LDCs proposed a way to get a deal by the end 2012. As someone close to AOSIS said “there is no reason, other than political will why this can’t be achieved in one year”.   

Subsequently AOSIS ambassadors Williams from Grenada and Moses from Nauru stepped outside the UN ‘bubble’ to join with activists and African climate victims in a “Survival Rally” this afternoon. Over 500 rural South African women greeted them in solidarity! The African and AOSIS regions are thousands of miles apart but they are both on the front line of climate change. As AOSIS stated, “At present, we are set on a pathway to warming of 3.5°C, a pathway which will quite literally wipe a number of the countries for whom I speak today from the face of the Earth.”

There haven’t been substantial progress in the talks thus far. The Green Climate Fund remains uncertain, discussions of Long Term Finance have begun but bunker fuel levies are out of text. EU leadership on the KP remains uncertain and is on the back burner until Ministers arrive next week. Truly, the most important things happening these days in Durban are outside the walls of the UN.