UN climate negotiations in Durban 2011

COP 17 logo Representatives from Oxfam International, the global confederation of Oxfams that includes New Zealand, attended this year’s UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa .

There are some obvious and achievable steps that governments must take to ensure progress is made. Oxfam believes that climate change is a global problem, requiring a global solution – a UN deal that is fair to both rich and poor countries.

Durban debrief

By Kirk Serpes, Oxfam's Senior Campaigns Coordinator

"At 6am on Sunday morning, running around 36 hours overtime, the Durban climate change negotiations came to an end, with all countries finally agreeing to transition towards a legally binding agreement by 2020. Government delegates, media and civil society alike put on a marathon effort to get there, with the talks on the verge of collapse at several points. As a veteran of two previous negotiations, Copenhagen and Cancun, I spent the weekend anxiously checking for updates at every free moment and watching the photos and live stream of the drama as it unfolded. And there was a lot of drama, from Occupy style sit-ins, to government negotiators standing on their desks to be heard, bilateral huddles in the middle of the plenary rooms and passionate speeches by youth and developing nations.

Let them eat coal
Ever tried eating coal? Oxfam's stunt shows how the food we all rely on is at risk in the face of a changing climate.

"Many of the people there were my friends – we had survived previous negotiations together and it was quite hard not being able to join them in solidarity as they fought for a better deal for those worst affected by climate change. A legally binding agreement that commits all nations to reduce emissions from 2020 onwards may sound like progress, and to a certain extent it is, but the science tells us that this scenario is simply not good enough. With the low level of ambition in pledges currently on the table this would make a 4-degree temperature rise a highly likely scenario. As many of the protesters outside the negotiations pointed out, this would mean a death sentence for Africa, and indeed many of our neighbouring Pacific nations. In fact, with 4 degrees of temperature rise, runaway climate change due to positive feedback loops becomes a lot more likely, with global average temperatures ultimately rising well above that.

"However, this difference between what is necessary to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees and what is on the table in terms of global emissions cuts, known as the Gigatonne Gap, has for the first time been officially recognised, leaving open the window to ratchet up ambition in the coming years. In fact, one of the advantages of having everyone sign up to a single agreement also removes that tired excuse we are used to of, “China, India or the USA have not signed onto legally binding cuts.” The choice between mutually assured destruction and mutually assured transformation to a fossil fuel free future has never been clearer. These negotiations have been going for most of my life and in the words on Anjali Appadurai in her address to the plenary on the final day, the time has come to just “Get it done!”

Durban: Behind the scenes

Life at COP17: Oxfam takes you behind the scenes in Durban with our Flikr album.

Oxfam kicked off the summit with a dinner party in the sea to provide a stark illustration of the effects that extreme weather will have on our already creaking food system. Poor people already spend a big proportion of their incomes on food and this will increase if crops fail due to an unpredictable climate. Take a look:

Help us build a 'Radio Wave' for climate action

With song and stories, people around the world took to the radio airwaves, sharing the realities of the climate crisis and calling on people to take action in the lead up to the 2011 UN Climate negotiations in Durban.

350.org, supported by Oxfam, invited people to use the power of song and our voices to take the climate movement to the airwaves.

For the low-lying islands of the Pacific like Tuvalu, the effects of climate change on families and communities can be devastating. Oxfam sought a fair deal for these communities at the UN negotiations in Durban.

New Zealand Youth Delegation

The New Zealand Youth Delegation is a non-governmental youth organisation run by young people to empower New Zealand youth on climate change issues.

Ten representatives, aged 16-26 were at Durban, advocating for a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement.

Oxfam is calling for governments at COP 17 to take action.

The extreme weather of 2010/11 has contributed to increasing food insecurity at all levels. Increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events could leave many poor countries with potentially overwhelming food security challenges, including in the Pacific – one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change. This must add urgency to the need for immediate action to reduce emissions and to fund adaptation if a calamitous future is to be avoided.

Find out more in Oxfam's media briefing Extreme weather endangers food security 2010-11: A grim foretaste of future suffering and hunger (PDF 600KB)

On finance

  • Take strides to get the global Green Climate Fund up and running by 2013, with good access for developing countries, at least 50 percent of resources used on adaptation, and strong representation of women and civil society.
  • Commit to scaled-up long-term finance 2013-20 to fill the global Green Climate Fund and that developed countries meet their commitments to mobilise at least $100bn per year by 2020.
  • Agree the key principles of a fair deal on shipping emissions that both reduces emissions and raises climate finance.
    This must provide guidance to the International Maritime Organisation to design a carbon pricing instrument for international shipping which takes account of the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” by ensuring that revenues are directed both as compensation to developing countries for the marginally increased transport costs they will face, and to the global Green Climate Fund. At least $10 billion per year for the Green Climate Fund should result.

On mitigation

  • Recognise the ‘Emissions Gap’ and start a process to close it.
    Governments must quantify the size of the ambition gap, identify options to close or minimise loopholes in emissions accounting, and resolve to increase their individual mitigation targets. This is especially true for developed countries whose proposed emission cuts lead to, at best, 12-18 percent reductions below 1990 levels by 2020, instead of the 40 percent scientists say are needed.
  • Commit to contribute their fair share to the global long-term mitigation effort needed to keep global warming to well below 2°C, while keeping within reach the chance to limit warming to below 1.5°C. This requires that global emissions peak no later than 2015 and are cut at least 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

On legal form

  • Recognise that an effective global climate regime must be embedded in international law and commit to build on and not roll back, the existing international legal architecture for the fight against climate change.
    This should include a commitment by all Parties to the Kyoto Protocol to new targets under a second commitment period and agreement that all countries will increase their mitigation targets before 2020, and capture them as legally binding commitments in a new international framework.