While many participants had hoped for a rocking performance by negotiators, they left still straining to hear the sounds of success.

The most recent round of the United Nations climate change negotiations began early the morning of November 11. After a marathon final session that lasted more than 24 hours, talks concluded at nearly 9 p.m. on Saturday the 23rd. This dramatic finish has become an almost yearly occurrence of governments rocking all Friday night and partying every (Satur)day. With so much activity late in the game, observers might reasonably have expected a lengthy set of agreements to step up the fight against climate change. Or, at the very least, confirmation that Saturday night’s alright for fighting when nations can’t agree.

Instead, based on the reactions from many participants, the final agreements said more about the state of negotiations by what they left out than what they included. To be fair, these negotiations were not intended to reach a final decision on major climate change issues. Warsaw was built as a step toward agreement on a new climate change treaty at negotiations in Paris in December 2015. A successful agreement in Paris depends on countries making commitments to reduce their carbon pollution. Putting their cards on the table as early as possible would help even more. It would leave more time to assess if the commitments will be enough to stop dangerous and potentially runaway levels of climate change. And to negotiate stronger commitments if not.

Rather, governments, particularly the wealthiest and most polluting, spent all of Warsaw showing each other their best poker faces, with no new commitments pledged. Governments did manage to agree to state their commitments “well in advance” of Paris. They did not, however, clarify when exactly that would be.

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The president of COP 17, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, speaks at the final plenary session of the climate change meetings in Durban, South Africa (Source: Worldwatch).

As the new year begins, climate negotiators have begun to move on from their engagement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa. After two weeks of intense negotiations on the future of the international regime to combat climate change, they bring home pieces of an ambiguous mandate—but also some critical steps forward. Below, we discuss some of the outcomes of those exhilarating talks in early December.

Symbolic survival of the Kyoto Protocol

Under European Union leadership, signatories of the Kyoto Protocol agreed to enter a second commitment period for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, extending the treaty terms through 2017 or 2020. This symbolically salvaged the agreement—the only existing climate treaty with internationally binding reduction targets. However, the 27 EU countries, together with Australia, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland, are the only countries to take on these targets, and they agreed to do so only under the condition that all major countries agree to a new, truly global and comprehensive climate treaty, if necessary outside the Kyoto structure.

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Session of the United Nations climate negotiations October 2 in Panama City. Source: International Institute for Sustainable Development

Session of the United Nations climate negotiations October 2 in Panama City. Source: International Institute for Sustainable Development

Panama is only a short hop from the Caribbean islands now home to Worldwatch Institute’s Low-Carbon Energy Roadmaps project. But, it’s a big leap from the national renewable energy strategies being developed in the Caribbean to the tense efforts just wrapping up in Panama City to agree on global climate change reduction goals.

The Panama meetings from October 1-7 marked the final preparatory negotiation before the next United Nations climate change summit convenes in Durban, South Africa from November 28-December 10. With many issues on the negotiating table, countries made surprising progress on providing funding for climate change solutions, especially in developing countries. Countries also pushed big issues like a new global climate agreement and the next stage of the Kyoto Protocol onto an already overflowing agenda for Durban.

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