South Africa: COP 17 and beyond - the climate change challenges posed by the Durban Platform

Key Points:

The Durban Platform has set the challenge for the international community and mapped out the future of global climate change action, at least as far as 2020.

COP17/CMP7 in Durban, the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the signatories to the Kyoto Protocol, resulted in over 36 decisions, including the key outcome, the Durban Platform.

That the US, China, India and Brazil, the world's largest emitters, agreed to the Durban Platform, which sets a roadmap for the negotiation, agreement and commencement of the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, is labelled a "significant" or "landmark decision" by some and "a face-saver" and "major disappointment" by others.

It's significant because there is now a foundation for negotiating a legally binding instrument by 2020 to tackle climate change that binds both developed and developing countries, disappointing because according to scientific evidence it may not be enough to avert dangerous and irreversible levels of global warming.

International climate negotiations are tense and the issues complex – the disparity between developed and developing nations in terms of capacity, capability and consequently levels of ambition, the responsibilities of large historical emitters versus current large emitters as well as the reality of the scientific evidence are just a few of the issues with which the UNFCCC attempts to grapple.

Effective global action requires consensus decisions that are widely supported by all stakeholders, with mitigation and adaptation commitments that are evidence based. That parties to the UNFCCC made an agreement to agree to a successor to the Kyoto Protocol is a milestone for UNFCCC negotiations, and one that sets a roadmap for the negotiations, and challenges, ahead.

The Durban Platform

Parties negotiated a day and a half over time to agree to "develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties." Partly due to resistance from India and the US, the form and content of this future legally binding agreement have not been set; whether it will be another protocol, a treaty or take some other form, whether it will sets binding targets or requires voluntary pledges are the details to be explored over the next four years.

The roadmap outlined by the Durban Platform includes:

Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action – this working group will commence work in 2012 and complete its work "as soon as possible", but no later than 2015 for its adoption at COP21 and to come into effect in 2020.

Kyoto Protocol second commitment period – In the meantime, the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire on 31 December 2012, now has life until 31 December 2017 or 2020, depending on the progress of the negotiation of its successor. Signatories did not commit to further targets under Kyoto, but rather, parties will make national voluntary pledges during the second commitment period. Annex 1 parties (developed nations) are to submit their quantified emission limitation reduction objectives (QELROs) by May 2012. This means that a new level of ambition in the form of legally binding targets may not eventuate until 2020.

Green Climate Fund

An agreement was reached as to the design of the GCF, which was designated the operating entity of the financial mechanism of the Convention. It is a $100bn/year by 2020 to fund to support the developing nations and the least developed nations achieve adaptation and mitigation measures. The major contention is that the source of the funding for the GCF is unclear. A proposal to generate capital from international shipping levies was opposed and the fund will instead distribute money by loans and grants.

Future challenges for UNFCCC negotiations

Durban sets the tone, and a goal, for the future UNFCCC negotiations. But these will not be without their challenges.

The science: According to current science, voluntary pledges under the Kyoto Protocol's second commitment period are insufficient to stave off predicted dangerous and irreversible levels of global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that a temperature increase limited to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius with a peak of emissions by 2020 is necessary to keep global warming under control. Under current UNFCCC commitment levels, a change of 4 degrees Celsius is likely.

Commitment hiatus: The delay in the commencement of a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol and its second commitment period comprising national voluntary pledges means that it is probable that we will not see emission targets set until 2020, if at all. That Canada, Japan and Russia now stand with the US outside the umbrella of the Kyoto Protocol's second commitment period, having withdrawn to avoid penalties for failing to meet their targets to reduce overall emissions, raises further concerns about international commitment levels.

Legal form: in order for consensus to be reached on the Durban Platform, the description of the new UNFCCC instrument was crafted in such a way as to be acceptable to all parties, particularly to India, who insisted on the agreed, watered-down terminology. This drafting may compromise the effectiveness of the successor agreement.

The fine print: It will be a monumental challenge to design an instrument that reflects and supports different kinds of effort and ambition in a common framework. Agreeing on targets will also be difficult and will involve governments factoring in responsibility for historical emissions, current heavy emitters, emission cuts to date, populations, capacity and capabilities (eg. those nations with forests, those hit more heavily by climate change, those with economic or geographic constraints on using more efficient power and those whose priorities lie with eradicating poverty). The EU indicated at Durban that it is ready to raise its level of ambition by 30%, but that it will not do this alone.

US commitment: That the US agreed to the Durban Platform is significant, especially considering its refusal to sign Kyoto. The US electoral cycle is expected to influence how the negotiations on the Durban Platform pan out, with a Republican government expected to favour voluntary pledges over binding targets.

Finance: Although Durban has established a new GCF, the source of this finance is unknown.

Effect on carbon markets and Australian climate change policy

Since agreement was reached on the Durban Platform, carbon prices have been slowly climbing from a record low. While the Durban Platform failed to deliver certainty on targets, it has demonstrated to the market that the global community is committed to reducing the amount of carbon in the global economy. It really is a question of the global community's resolve in delivering those reductions, and the time in which this is to occur.

Carbon markets have received a further boost from the announcement of China's five year plan – which sets China's first carbon intensity goal, aiming to bring emissions down by 17% as part of its overall pledge to cut emissions intensity by 40-45% by 2020 – and its intention to have an emissions trading scheme by 2015. California's emissions trading scheme will also commence shortly.

The boost to the international carbon market should support Australia's Clean Energy Future Legislative Package. China's five and 15 year plans, the targets proposed by the EU, plus the global agreement to reach a legally binding commitment to implement the objectives of the UNFCCC, indicate that Australia is participating in an international transition to renewable energy sources and participation in carbon markets.

You might also be interested in ...

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions