Secretary of State The Rt Hon Chris Huhne MP's Oral Statement on the outcomes of the Durban COP17 climate change conference

With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the outcomes of the United Nations climate change conference in Durban, which concluded…

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The Rt Hon Chris Huhne

With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the outcomes of the United Nations climate change conference in Durban, which concluded just yesterday. I was present for the last week of the conference, along with my colleague the Minister of State for Climate Change [who cannot be at today’s statement as he is in committee].

Mr Speaker, after the disappointment of Copenhagen, last year’s Cancun conference showed that the UN climate process was back on track. The Durban conference was designed to build on that outcome, and our aims were therefore higher.

At our most optimistic, we hoped to agree a roadmap to a new global legally binding agreement, to replace or supplement the Kyoto Protocol.

Unlike Kyoto, this would incorporate emissions targets for all countries other than the poorest and least developed. This would be accompanied by agreement to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol from 2013. We also aimed to encourage countries to strengthen their voluntary pledges to reduce emissions in the years before any new agreement entered into force, and we hoped to establish the Green Climate Fund.

Mr Speaker, I am pleased to say that, following two weeks of intense negotiations, we achieved each of these aims.

The talks resulted in the adoption of the ‘Durban Platform’ - a roadmap to a global legal agreement applicable to all parties.

Negotiations for the new agreement, to begin early in 2012, are to conclude as early as possible and not later than 2015. The commitments in the new agreement will take effect from 2020.

The conference explicitly recognised the global gap between countries’ existing emissions reduction pledges out to 2020, and the global goal of limiting average temperature increases to below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. It launched a work programme for ratcheting up ambition, a process which will be reinforced by a forthcoming review of the scientific evidence.

The conference also agreed to adopt, next year, a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

Many details remain to be worked out over the coming months, including specific emissions reduction targets, the length of the commitment period, and a process for dealing with surplus emissions allowances. But the headline message is clear. The ‘Kyoto architecture’ - the rules and legal framework for managing emissions - have been preserved and can be built on in the future.

Mr Speaker, the conference also resolved to establish the Green Climate Fund to support policies and activities in developing countries. The UK is one of the few countries to have pledged climate finance beyond the initial ‘fast-start’ period, and we will make an announcement on the Green Climate Fund once its design is completed.

The conference also resolved to establish a work programme to look at sources of long-term finance for developing countries, with the aim of mobilising at least $100 billion per year by 2020.

Progress was made on several other parts of the international climate regime, including:

  • reporting guidelines for developed and developing countries
  • the creation of the Adaptation Committee, which will provide advice and ensure coherent action on adaptation
  • the establishment in 2012 of the Technology Executive Committee, to facilitate the development of low-carbon technologies
  • further details of the framework for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation
  • and a process for establishing new market-based mechanisms to deliver effective reductions in emissions at least cost

As well as the substantial diplomatic and technical outcomes I have outlined above, the Durban conference saw a highly significant political realignment. More than 120 countries formed a ‘coalition of high ambition’ in support of a roadmap to a global legally binding deal. Many African and Latin American states, the group of least developed countries, and the Alliance of Small Island States joined with the EU to argue for the roadmap to a new agreement.

This realignment has laid a firm political foundation, grounded in common interest, on which we can build future achievements.

Mr Speaker, I am sure that the House will wish to join me in paying a sincere tribute to the British team of negotiators. Drawn from across Government, and supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its posts, ours was one of the smallest of the G8 countries’ delegations. But its members played a key role in many of the detailed negotiating groups, sometimes on behalf of the entire EU.

The UK operated within and through the EU delegation, cooperating closely with representatives of other member states and the European Commission.

By working together with our European partners, we were able to deliver more effectively - for the British national interest, and for our shared ambitions.

In conclusion, Mr Speaker, the Durban conference represents a significant step forward.

It has re-established the principle that climate change should be tackled through international law, not through national voluntarism.

It has persuaded the major emerging economies to acknowledge, for the first time, that their own emissions commitments will have to be legally bound.

It has encouraged all countries, also for the first time, to admit that their current climate policies must be strengthened.

It has established the Green Climate Fund to support the poorest countries in tackling and responding to climate change.

And it has preserved the invaluable legal framework of the Kyoto Protocol, while at the same time opening the path to a new, more comprehensive and more ambitious global agreement. It was a clear success for international cooperation.

We still have much to do. Durban alone will not limit global warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. But we have taken a clear and vital step toward our goal.

I commend this statement to the House.

Published 12 December 2011