Leaders criticised for 2020 global plan - but aren't they just being pragmatic?

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Today developed nations have been accused of giving up on international climate change negotiations as world leaders admit that a future legally binding agreement will not likely be implemented until 2020, following a proposed 2016 agreement. Whilst groups such as the Alliance of Small Island States have decried this as shutting the door on abating dangerous climate change, it must not be forgotten that in December 2012, the Kyoto Protocol will not completely die away and any progress made at international talks will have been in vain.

Yes, we may still be a long way off agreeing an international legally binding commitment on reducing GHG emissions, but so many nations do have national targets for reducing their emissions. Indeed this was the main outcome of the talks in Copenhagen in 2009, where even the United States signed up to the ‘pledge and review' system they put forward. In addition the mechanisms put in place through the Kyoto Protocol will remain in place.

These leaders should not be criticised for being transparent about the state of the talks, it would be naïve to continue to believe that Durban will deliver this much needed agreement. Instead this honesty might help to break some of the deadlock by setting out a clear roadmap (that Europe is calling for) to ensure that a fair and equitable agreement is implemented in the medium term.

In the short term, those who have already signed up to reducing their emissions will continue to do so, while negotiators should focus on agreeing something that all take part in. This should look at a range of policy levers to reduce carbon emissions, such as carbon intensity targets, rather than the traditional cap and trade. Carbon intensity targets have the potential to overcome the current impasse on a global agreement by not restricting growth, as many nations feel an absolute cap does. Other potential policy levers, such as global sector agreements for certain sectors, such as steel or cement, could also deliver significant emissions reductions.

It might not the ambitious dialogue that we have heard in previous talks, but at least this is pragmatic and realistic.

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