The outcome of the latest round of climate change negotiations in Durban was as good as any dared hope for. A second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, together with agreement from all countries to begin negotiations on a new legally binding instrument, or an agreement with “legal force” is a major step forward. However, Durban will be remembered for much more than that; as the place where the tectonic plates of international relations fundamentally shifted.
The group of countries that drove the outcome in South Africa was a new coalition involving the EU and the BASIC countries - Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.
The emergence of this alliance of countries is significant for two reasons. First, these countries share a vision about the future and are committed to a path of low carbon, sustainable development. They recognise that this is the only pro-growth, pro-development strategy.
Second, this grouping signals a dissolving of the traditional divide between rich and poor countries. For long international negotiations have been hampered by an overriding solidarity between developing countries and a culture of blame. Durban saw a new maturity with the major developing countries partnering with progressive, developed countries and beginning to take responsibility for the future direction of the global economy.
This shift of the tectonic plates is based on enlightened self-interest.
On the one hand, there is no long-term scenario under which a fossil fuels-based economy is either sustainable or desirable for the human race as a whole. Reliance on fossil fuels, with supply risks in terms of political stability in oil producing regions, dwindling supplies and volatile prices together with an unstable climate caused by increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, present serious risks to a growing economy.
On the other hand, the economic opportunities presented by the low carbon economy represent a major source of sustainable growth over the next few decades, while protecting the climate from dangerous human interference. With the existing regulatory and legislative frameworks, investment in clean energy is already rising fast and these countries were at the forefront.
In 2010, the clean energy sector increased in value by 30 per cent and was worth $243 billion. The EU – with a long-term and credible legislative framework to tackle climate change - claimed the largest share with $94.4 billion. Asia, led by China, was second with $82.8 billion. And the Americas, where the US has no legislative framework to price carbon or tackle climate change, fell into third place with $65.8 billion, reflecting the regulatory risk for investors of policy uncertainty.
The new coalition of countries that surfaced in Durban is building on this foundation by developing the regulatory and legislative frameworks to strengthen progress. As the 2nd Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE) Climate Legislation Study – launched last week in Durban – shows:
Brazil has recently passed legislation to introduce a system of payments for ecosystem services to properly value natural resources and has updated the forest code to reduce the rate of deforestation – its major source of emissions.
China’s 12th Five Year Plan sets carbon intensity targets for the first time, alongside energy intensity targets, and it is developing climate change legislation, expected to create further incentives for clean energy.
India has adopted a “Solar Mission”, setting ambitious goals for the development of solar power generation.
Mexico passed a comprehensive climate change law in the Senate last week, expected to pass the lower house within days.
South Africa has a comprehensive White Paper on climate change that sets out its vision for moving to a low carbon economy and adapting the inevitable impacts of climate change that are happening now.
These are all investments in the future, a future that will belong to the major developing countries. After all, the projected population of the Earth in 2050 is 9 billion, 8 billion of which will be living in what we currently call developing countries. It will be their world and they are beginning to prepare their economies to provide sustainable prosperity for their people.
As President of GLOBE International, the group of international legislators from the G20 economies, I am working hard to help facilitate the move to a low carbon economy.
-John Gummer is President of the Global Legislators Organisation, and was formerly UK Secretary of State for the Environment