Since the outset of global climate negotiations in the 1990s, the United Nations and European diplomats have perpetuated the collective fantasy that the only standard for success is a “legally binding treaty” under international law. Well intentioned, initially, this has always been impractical.
Yet, nearly 20 years after the talks started, the inevitable failure to meet this standard has year by year doomed the political reputation of global climate action, even as real progress has been made behind the scenes.
This year, in Durban, South Africa, leaders had a golden opportunity to end this self-delusion, in part by dismissing a so-called “second Kyoto compliance period” being pushed by the European Union. They could have injected a much-needed dose of reality, helped restore the reputation of climate negotiations and exerted more effective political pressure on climate laggards, including the United States. Instead, diplomats perpetuated the Kyoto chimera and self-defeating “legal framework” language as part of the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.”