COP 17 Summary of Outcomes

On 28 November 2011 South Africa hosted the 17th session of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – commonly referred to as COP17. COP17 is the only global negotiations aimed at achieving global reductions in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, which have been scientifically linked to recent changes in climate, specifically rises in global mean temperatures. This meeting is also concerned with how countries can respond to climate change in order to reduce its adverse impacts.

COP 17 drew about 12,500 participants, including over 5,400 government officials, 1,200 members of the media, and 5,800 representatives of intergovernmental organizations, civil society organizations, and UN bodies and agencies.

This event was dubbed ‘the African COP’ as it seen to represent an opportunity for the continent to heighten its presence in the current multilateral system and influence the decision-making processes by advancing the agenda of the most vulnerable.

Mitigation issues were central to COP 17 negotiations, with the possibility of a second commitment period (2012-2016) for the Kyoto Protocol comprising a key theme. The Kyoto Protocol is the only legally binding agreement for greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The Protocol commits 37 countries (excluding the USA) to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by different percentages relative to 1990 levels, with the exact percentage differing from country to country. Developed countries including the EU, Norway, Australia and New Zealand agreed to a second commitment period, which will begin from January 2012 and will extend up until either 2017 or 2020; this will be decided at COP 18 in Qatar. The second commitment period will be weaker than the first as it will be a voluntary basis not tied to any global carbon reduction targets.

In addition, both developed and developing countries committed to compiling a new international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which will come into effect in 2020; termed the Durban Platform for Cooperative Action.

The Green Climate Fund is now operational and the first meeting will be in Switzerland with South Korea providing start up finance for the fund. The Green Climate Fund was set up at COP 16 in Cancun to assist developing countries transition to a low carbon economy.

Guidelines on technical issues like safeguards, forest reference levels in REDD (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) have been finalised and its now eligible for international financing. This UN-led programme is an effort to create financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon developments.

COP17 also provided a platform for the mobilisation of civil society and to demonstrate to the world’s governments that people will push them to change. The Civil Society Steering Committee for COP17 (C17), for example, was established to create opportunities for engaging society with climate change solutions and in the climate change negotiations, amongst others.
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