[It] is no exaggeration to say that Durban marked a breakthrough. It is not the end of the road but rather the beginning of a new phase in international climate policy. A new phase with a clear mandate to raise the level of ambition, both now and in the future legal regime.European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard hails the ambition of the new legal framework agreed at the Durban Climate Conference...
With the first commitment period under the Kyoto protocol expiring in 2012, the EU had made clear we would engage in a second Kyoto period only if the Durban Climate Conference agreed on a clear roadmap to a deal that, for the first time, will bind all nations legally.
Linking the two paid off. The EU's strategy worked, and Durban delivered this roadmap. Representatives at the conference agreed that this new legal framework must be concluded by 2015 and come into force from 2020. It was also agreed that the new climate regime must be more ambitious than the one we have now.
By standing united and firm in Durban, the EU achieved what few had thought possible. We put pressure on the big emitters. We proved wrong those who thought the EU would cave in to China and India. We had to fight until the very last minute, but we succeeded.
At present only some developed countries have the legal obligation to reduce emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. Under the new legal framework agreed at Durban, all countries – developed and developing – will for the first time be equally bound.
While the agreement is clearly very good news, it remains true that it doesn't change much today nor will it in the near future. In the meantime, therefore, more ambitious near-term action is essential. All the scientific evidence indicates that global emissions need to peak prior to 2020 – before the future legal regime kicks in.
The EU will not be sitting back and waiting for the new big deal. We will be trying to do more here – more renewables and energy efficiency, smarter ways of taxing and further emissions cuts, all of which will boost growth and jobs in Europe. Until the big deal comes into effect in 2020, the rest of the world must join us in considering how they will increase their ambition.
In breaking with the past, this new system reflects the reality of today's mutually interdependent world. All countries need to take on commitments that have equal legal weight. Developing countries, led by China, already emit more greenhouse gas than the developed world and by 2020 it is estimated they will be responsible for around two-thirds of global emissions.
The EU would have liked to see the new system in place much earlier, but many of the big emitters were not ready for that yet. In accepting the Durban outcome they have agreed to be ready by 2020 at the latest.
In the meantime Kyoto will act as a bridge to the new global regime. The EU has always supported Kyoto and wanted to preserve its essential elements for the future. We have based our own legislation on Kyoto principles – Europe is the region with the most ambitious target under Kyoto, and we are actually on course to surpass that target.
If there is one thing that Europe has learned, it is that binding targets work. They help governments remain focused even when other political priorities come up.
Important though they are, international agreements are not the only answer to climate change. What defines whether we have strong and effective or weak and inadequate climate policies is what nations, regions, municipalities, companies and each individual citizen do. We all have a part to play in combating climate change.
However, it is no exaggeration to say that Durban marked a breakthrough. It is not the end of the road but rather the beginning of a new phase in international climate policy. A new phase with a clear mandate to raise the level of ambition, both now and in the future legal regime.
As we did in Durban, the EU will continue to set the pace on climate related issues. We will keep working to get all our partners on board for the ambitious action our planet demands.This article first appeared on publicservice.co.uk: The long and binding road.