7 key negotiations at Durban climate talks

Much coverage has been devoted to negotiations for a new carbon-cutting agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, but the 194 nations at UN climate talks in Durban are talking about other things too.

UN conference not all about new binding carbon emissions regime

Protesters shout as they demonstrate inside the building where the UN climate change conference is taking place in Durban, South Africa, Friday. (Schalk van Zuydam/Associated Press)

Much coverage out of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa has been devoted to negotiations toward a new carbon-cutting agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires next year.

That goal is a difficult one, because nations such as Canada, the United States, Russia and Japan are opposed to an agreement that does not commit big polluters in the developing world to emissions cuts.

But there is a long list of things the negotiators and delegates are talking about in Durban other than a route to a new climate treaty.

As part of any new treaty — and as part of Kyoto 1 — there are mechanisms that make the overall UN climate change agreement work. These are also being updated and negotiated in Durban. Some are more controversial than others.

As the Durban talks near an end and delegates scramble to reach some agreement, here's a list of some of the key things under negotiation:

1. Adaptation Fund

A fund for projects and programs that help developing countries cope with the adverse effects of climate change, it is financed by a share of proceeds from emission-reduction programs such as the Clean Development Mechanism. Parties are talking about how its future will unfold depending on what happens to the Kyoto Protocol.

2. Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)

A program that enables developed countries or companies to earn credits by investing in greenhouse gas emission reduction or removal projects in developing countries. These credits can be used to offset emissions and bring a country or company below its mandatory target. Negotiations in Durban are around how this will continue after the Kyoto "first commitment period" ends in 2012.

3. Green Climate Fund

Conceived in Copenhagen and agreed to in Cancun last year, the fund is aimed at helping the developing world deal with mitigating the effects of, and adapting to, climate change. Industrialized nations promised that the fund would have $100 billion available a year by 2020.

However, there are many outstanding issues being discussed, such as how to pay for it, how to make it legal and how to make sure the money is being spent properly. Canada and the U.S. were raising questions about the fund going into Durban, saying they didn't want to commit to funding it without a broad new climate treaty that includes all emitters.

The fund is a big deal at the Durban talks for developing nations who see it as crucial for them to handle the effects of climate change and a sign of goodwill from rich nations.

[IMAGEGALLERY galleryid=1544 size=small]

Part of the fund is the so-called Fast Start funding money being spent between 2010 and 2012 by rich countries to help poor countries kickstart efforts to adapt to a changing climate. Canada has pledged $1.2 billion for Fast Start and to date has allocated about $1 billion.

4. MRV: Measure, report and verify

Often called Merv by conference attendees, this sounds boring but it's a big deal. It's a system to track countries' progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Last year Cancun set out the broad framework for this, but Durban is supposed to fill in the gaps. Essentially countries are supposed to submit reports every two years on efforts to cut emissions. Durban is supposed to figure out what form these reports will take and how it will be reviewed.

5. MRV for developing nations

There are complaints the process of checking what developing nations do isn't as clear as it could be. All this MRV stuff is important because it is fundamental to making sure everyone does what they pledge to do and spend the money the proper way.

6. Technology Transfer

Under Kyoto, countries agreed promote and finance the transfer technologies and know-how to developing countries to enable them to implement the provisions of the climate convention. Things like renewable energy technology. This transfer is occurring now and at each conference countries discuss how its going and call for proposals and how this might be linked to future funding mechanisms. Not as controversial as other issues.


Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, a concept that would provide developing countries with a financial incentive to preserve forests and the carbon that is stored inside them. Basically the idea is that forests are worth more standing than they are cut down, and REDD would essentially pay countries and indigenous people to make a living off the forests without cutting down trees.

This appears to be one of the things that delegates can agree on in Durban and is the most likely agreement to be reached. They working out how to make this a universal system and how to make it accountable. Some indigenous groups don't like it because they fear that it will lead to corporate forest grabs.