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Durban Climate Talks End In Legally-Binding Agreement – Will It Be Enough?

UN Climate Change Conference in Duban

After nearly two weeks of intense debate, delegates at the U.N. climate change talks in Durban finally agreed to a legally binding plan to curb global carbon emissions. But despite optimism over finally sealing a legally-binding international deal, many scientists warn that urgent action is still necessary to avoid over 3°C of warming this century – a temperature far higher than the “safe” level of 2°C.

The new climate deal was achieved Sunday morning after a marathon 60 hour negotiation session. 190 countries agreed to four main elements at Durban: a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, the establishment of a Green Climate Fund, a mechanism to get all countries in 2015 to sign an emission-cutting deal, and a plan of action for next year.

For the first time, the United States, China, Brazil, and India, considered to be some of the world’s biggest polluters, agreed to legally binding emission cuts for 2020. The exact details regarding those cuts won’t be agreed to until 2015, with the cuts themselves not taking effect until 2020.

One of the most notable agreements stemming from Durban is the design of a Green Climate Fund. Previously, the concerns of poorer countries were often neglected in international climate talks – even though poor countries will perhaps be the hardest hit by climate change. In particular, small island countries such as Nauru may become completely inundated by water if sea levels continue to rise.

The Green Climate Fund was therefore established to channel up to $100 billion a year to poor nations grappling with the effects of climate change.

However, despite the small successes made in Durban, climate scientists still warn that the new agreement will do little to prevent warming past 2°C.

According to the director of the UN Environment Programme, Achim Steiner: “I can’t see anything in these negotiations that will prevent warming beyond 2 °C. To do that will require the world’s carbon dioxide emissions to peak by 2020, but it looks as if we may not even have an agreement in force until 2020.”

Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth, had even stronger words about Durban: “This empty shell of a plan leaves the planet hurtling towards catastrophic climate change. If Durban is to be a historic stepping stone towards success the world must urgently agree ambitious targets to slash emissions.”

Do you view the Durban climate talks as a success or a failure? Do you think the world’s biggest polluters will be able to fulfill their legally-binding emission cuts?

Image CC licensed by UNclimatechange: COP17 UN Climate Change Conference in Durban

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