Baby Steps in Climate Negotiations are Still Steps in the Right Direction

I wasn’t able to attend the [frustrating] climate change talks in Durban, South Africa this year, although I would have loved to. South Africa is an incredible place to visit.

I say the talks are frustrating because they always seem to go the same way. The European nations and some smaller countries attend the meeting armed with serious data, heightened concern about the planet and the good will to actually make a thoughtful, binding plan. The U.S. and China, the two biggest carbon emitters on the planet, also attend the talks but spend the whole time pointing at each other saying  [insert whiney pre-teen voice] “I’m not doing anything unless he does,” and ultimately the talks go nowhere. At the conclusion of the meeting, all involved end up throwing up their hands, shaking their heads and hoping that someday, maybe someday, China and the U.S. will come around.

Maybe it’s because I’m the mother of two children who constantly tell me that whatever task I have asked them to do is “unfair” because the other one doesn’t have to do it (walk the dog, set the table, practice the instrument, read a book, etc.) but the past behavior of China and the U.S. strikes me as incredibly childish. And yes, I know that I am grossly over-simplifying all the important reasons that both China and the U.S have listed as to why they cannot commit to mitigating climate change.

So this morning, reading the results of the highly frenetic last-minute Durban deal, I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised. To sum it up (again, grossly over-generalizing) the parties have committed to come up with an agreement by 2015 to curb their carbon emissions by 2020. The agreement will have some legal teeth. Additionally, the parties agreed to establish a Green Climate Fund — a fund of about $100 billion that could be used around the world to mobilize climate change mitigation strategies.

You can read a good summary of the particulars here. Stephen Lacey was at the talks and offers the blow-by-blow negotiations here.

The cries of outrage from climate scientists are already being heard all over the blogosphere. They say that the talks will do nothing to stave off the catastrophic effects of climate change. By 2020, they say, when the emission targets are actually binding, the planet will already be very, very doomed.

On the other hand, the U.N. reportedly praised the deal as a heroic effort to save the planet.

From where I sit, I am happy that the U.S. and China (and India, too) were able to agree to something that shows they will begin to take seriously the task of reducing carbon emissions. At, we try to focus solely on the renewable energy industry. We look only occasionally at all the reasons to support renewables — climate change being just one spoke on that wheel, which also includes energy independence/national security, peak oil, and a host of other reasons to believe that renewable energy is our path forward.

Nevertheless, a plan to reduce carbon emissions must certainly include the increased adoption of renewable energy and for that, I think the Durban deal is a good one.

Let’s talk about these issues in person at Renewable Energy World North America and Solar Power-Gen in Long Beach, Calif. Feb 14-16, 2012. Visit the event websites for information about how to register: Renewable Energy World North America and Solar Power-Gen

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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at

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