Press Conference on UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference in Durban

1 December 2011

Press Conference on UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference in Durban

1 December 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference in Durban


Despite low expectations for the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, currently under way in Durban, South Africa, a positive outcome of that meeting would advance the global climate change agenda and help world leaders better address broader sustainable development issues in the coming year, a senior United Nations policy adviser said this afternoon.

“No [Conference of Parties] is going to deliver it all.  It’s about incremental progress,” Robert C. Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning, said at a Headquarters press conference.

During the two-week conference, which began on 28 November and runs through 9 December, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would work with all parties to seek progress on the Kyoto Protocol, the only global legally binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, whose first commitment period expires in December 2012, Mr. Orr said.  Negotiators must ensure that the institutional and market-based gains resulting from the treaty’s creation were not lost and that they moved the overall process forward on mitigation commitments.

“To lose it at a time when we’re discussing a comprehensive global agreement would be quite a blow,” he said.  Mr. Orr was quick to add, however, that the Conference would not produce a binding climate change accord.  The goal, rather, was to advance the negotiation process.

The Secretary-General would open the Conference’s high-level segment on 6 December, hold bilateral discussions with key delegations on core issues, chair side events on climate change financing and meet with the Conference’s host, South Africa President Jacob Zuma, Mr. Orr said.

The Secretary-General would also call on Governments to implement the decisions agreed last year during the Climate Change Conference in Cancún, Mexico, concerning scaled up technology assistance for developing countries, and creation of a Green Climate Fund and an adaptation framework, Mr. Orr said.

Furthermore, Mr. Ban would seek tangible progress on short- and long-term financing, Mr. Orr said.  Almost all of the $30 billion that developed countries had agreed to commit to support developing nations’ mitigation and adaptation efforts under the so-called fast-start financing agreements had been identified.  Increasing the transparency of how the funds were allocated and disbursed would bolster investors’ confidence that the money was reaching those in need and was being well spent.

The Conference was taking place at a time of bleak, worrying trends, he said.  According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere had reached record levels this year.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said hot days were becoming hotter and growing more frequent.  Worse, if emissions were left unchecked, their frequency would jump tenfold in most regions of the world.

But not everything was grim, he said, citing a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report that noted that 2010 had been the first year in history in which investments in alternative fuel sectors surpassed those in coal, oil and natural gas.

According to the report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Advisory Group on Climate Financing, the global goal of mobilizing $100 billion annually by 2020 from public, private and innovative financing sources was feasible.  Discussions are under way in Durban to achieve that through financing proposals related to bunker fuels, fuel efficiency in the maritime industry and other areas. 

Asked how global financial woes were influencing world leaders’ decisions to commit funds to address climate change, Mr. Orr said he was impressed by the number of Governments that recognized green investments’ potential for short- and long-term economic growth.  In 2009, the Government of the Republic of Korea had dedicated 80 per cent of its economic stimulus package to such growth.

But investors were also keen on a sense of certainty over the Kyoto Protocol’s future.  “There is money out there.  If this process moves forward and gives confidence to investors, then that $100 billion is not out of reach at all,” he said.

Asked if the Durban Conference’s failure could hinder the Organization’s goals, particularly those of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio de Janeiro next June, Mr. Orr said that indeed climate change was a “game changer” and the Conference’s outcome would impact the United Nations work.

But it was encouraging that the tone of the discussions in Durban was sober and serious and that negotiators understood the consequences of failure.  “At this stage of a [Conference of Parties], I’ve heard less discussion of failure than at previous ones,” he said.  Progress in Durban to show that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process was moving forward would benefit the Rio+20 process, but not determine its outcome.

Concerning reports that the world had reached the tipping point on climate change and asked how to reverse such damage, he said scientific trends showed that tipping points in certain areas, such as desertification, water scarcity and hot weather, had been reached or were about to be reached.  Such data strongly backed the argument for upfront investment to address climate change, and was the driver behind the Secretary-General’s push in Durban to operationalize the Green Climate Fund and mobilize the $100 billion promised by 2020.  “We’ve got to get this all in place so those investments start happening as soon as possible,” he said.

Regarding complaints that African countries, which were least responsible for but most affected by climate change, were not benefitting from climate change funding mechanisms, Mr. Orr said indeed it was imperative to ensure that all countries that needed such funding could access it, and the United Nations was working with Governments towards that aim.  While Africa had received virtually no funding from the Clean Development Mechanism during its initial five or six years, that situation was improving. 

Asked if African nations had been sidelined in the climate change talks, he said they were well represented at the Durban Conference, thanks to its South African sponsor.  “I’m confident that by the end of the Durban exercise, if this goes the way it could and should, you probably won’t be hearing as many of those concerns,” he said.  Concerning concrete gains for Africa resulting from the Conference, he said progress on funding, adaptation and technology transfer would benefit the continent.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.