A pragmatic agenda in Durban

Heleen de Coninck, programme manager International Energy and Climate Issues

The four representatives of ECN (Policy Studies) at COP17, Stefan Bakker, Xander van Tilburg, Laura Würtenberger and myself, may deep in their hearts still hope that a strong second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol accepted by all would be agreed in Durban, and implemented. But while in Durban, we worked from the premise that a top-down deal including all relevant countries would be very unlikely. The Kyoto Protocol implementation has taught us that a legally binding treaty is no guarantee for compliance. The long negotiations and the delay of a compromise in Durban only confirmed this.

Hence the agenda of ECN researchers at COP17 was pragmatic. Our aim was to find ways of reducing emissions in the absence of a global deal on emission reductions and a global carbon market. Many countries are interested in sustainable development, with or without an international agreement. How can such willingness be used for the benefit of preventing climate change? In which sectors can emissions be reduced with co-benefits? And to the extent that  the UN climate negotiations do offer instruments; how can they be implemented?

One of the topics ECN is particularly active on is technology development and transfer. Not mentioned in the Kyoto Protocol, this topic has risen to be one of the fields of negotiation since the Bali Climate Change Conference in 2007. However, as the bulk of the negotiating and research attention goes to pledges or commitments for emission reductions and to the Green Climate Fund, technology remains slightly shielded from the turmoil in negotiations around the other themes. However, a Technology Mechanism is slowly emerging and Durban agreed on its governance.

ECN was able to contribute to sketching an outline of how the Technology Mechanism could work. As we work a lot on energy technology, we like to think that we know what we are talking about in this field. We speak up in discussions on enhancing technology development, working with the private sector and on the policy and social environment in which technologies can be made to happen. These are all aims of the Technology Mechanism, which could achieve quite a lot on both development and climate change without the resistance put up by a centralised, top-down process. A side-event on these aspects, organised by ECN together with the University of Sussex on December 7th, was well-attended.

COP17 was more than a negotiation process. It was also a platform for companies, agencies, research organisations and NGOs to present their work and their thinking, and to identify how they can serve the process better. This is exactly what we did in Durban. It is a slow process, but we are not out of ideas!