The recently concluded international United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change did little to resolve the increasingly divisive and factional landscape of international climate policy. In the months leading up to the talks in Durban countries had grown increasingly divided on their approaches to climate policy, with several groups being formed. European nations, among others, supported instituting a comprehensive, legally-binding agreement limiting countries’ greenhouse gas emissions; while rapidly developing economies such as China and India continued to oppose a strict binding agreement as it would impose severe restrictions on their continued economic growth; and those nations, such as the United States, that support a series of common restrictions and limits, in theory, but are skeptical as to its applicability.

As a result, the Durban talks resulted in a vaguely worded and non-binding promise to work toward a new global treaty in the near future and the establishment of a new climate fund. Despite the vague nature of the current pledge, the debate surrounding the decision to proceed towards a new treaty, to replace the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, has been characterized as highly contentious and the progress as hard-won.

None the less, this did not yet yield a transition away from the existing two-tier system which gives “developing” countries, such as China, the advantage of less rigid restrictions, a system which many, with the United States being among  the most vocal, have criticized. This system has been criticized for, firstly, giving an unfair economic advantage to those countries classified as “developing” countries. Secondly, and ultimately more significantly, this system has been criticized for being inherently ill-suited to the challenge of reducing global emissions, as the dilemma lies in the overall quantities of greenhouse gases emitted into the earth’s atmosphere and not in the geographical source of these emissions.

Agreement on the details surrounding the newly established climate fund, while slightly less opaque, were also left for another day. What is clear, for now, is that the fund, called the Green Climate Fund, would help to mobilize $100 billion annually, through a combination of both public and private funds, by 2020 to facilitate developing nations’ transitions to clean energy sources and sustainable, climate change combating technologies, practices and policies.

At the conclusion of this greatly anticipated and influential conference, we are left with desperately few signs of practical progress in solving the grand challenge of climate change. These talks failed to produce a firm agreement on a new treaty nor did they even result in a desired road-map towards such a legally-binding global treaty. As a result, many analysts have suggested that the Durban conference has amounted to little more than a direly needed face-saver for global governments, serving as a temporary defense against the strident outcries of climate-change activists and environmental experts.

Source: NY Times article reporting the results

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Report in the Guardian
Further analysis in the NY Times
Analysis in Business Day 
The Framework Convention’s website