TWN Info Service on Climate Change (Nov07/06)

30 November 2007

A Post 2012 Climate Treaty in Bali?

As the Bali meetings of UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol near, there is a lot of media  talk about the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012 and the need to negotiate a replacement for it starting at the Bali meeting.

In fact this is factually wrong as what is expiring is not the Kyoto Protocol but only the first commitment period (2008 to 2012) during which the developed countries in Annex I of the UNFCCC are to reduce their emissions.  The protocol mandates Subsequent commitment periods.

Indeed one key issue at Bali is  the  continuation of the Kyoto Protocol.   It is to say the least premature and in fact highly misleading to imagine that Bali's task is to bury the Kyoto Protocol and give birth to a new treaty.

The following article was published in The Star, the Malaysian newspaper, on 26 November 2007.

With best wishes
Martin Khor

Global Trends Column
The Star (Malaysia)
Monday November 26, 2007
Post-2012 climate plan in Bali?


There is misinformation in many reports that the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 and talks for a new treaty must be launched in Bali. The reality is more complex.


AS THE Bali meetings on climate change near there is a frenzy of activities and statements about what to do about this problem.

Last week, the Asean leaders adopted a declaration on climate change, calling for “an effective, comprehensive and equitable post-2012 international climate change arrangement.”

For the Bali meetings to succeed, some facts about the current regime need to be straightened out.

In many statements and media reports, there is misinformation that the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, and a new protocol must be created to replace it.

This misinformation was for example published in a Singapore newspaper report on the Asean Summit last week.

The Kyoto Protocol was established in 1997 under the UN Convention on Climate Change (which itself was adopted in 1992).

Under Kyoto, developed-country members are legally required to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. They agreed to cut emissions collectively by 5% between 1990 and the end of the first commitment period, which is 2008 to 2012. 

Each country has its own specified target, and the targets are all listed in an annex.

Developing countries are not required to commit to emission reductions, because of their lower development level, and as they contributed little to the historical build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

They committed to collect data on greenhouse gases at the national level, and to formulate national measures to avoid and adapt to climate change.

However, it was also agreed that their actions depend on the extent to which the developed countries meet their other protocol commitments – to provide finance and technology to the poorer countries.

The importance of the year 2012 is because the first commitment period of the developed countries ends then. The Protocol has a mandate for further commitment periods. The second commitment period starts in 2013.

By then the developed countries must have an agreed legally binding set of targets for further reducing their emissions. And the leaders of many of these countries say that by 2009 the targets must already be set to enable a smooth transition..

Thus, what is in the books is a negotiation for a second set of commitments of the developed countries for the post-2012 period. It is wrong to claim that the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Only the first commitment period ends then, and a second period should begin in 2013.

Why then the publicity about the need for a “comprehensive” post-2012 treaty? In reality, the developed countries are no longer satisfied with the Kyoto Protocol’s exemption of developing countries from binding emission cuts.

It appears that they are now placing new conditions before setting emission targets for themselves. And the main condition seems to be that developing countries begin to take on more commitments. 

At least they are targeting big countries like China and India and possibly more industrialised countries such as South Korea, Brazil and some in Asean.

The call for a “new post-2012 treaty” and for “comprehensive negotiations” is thus a code for pulling in developing countries into making commitments, with different levels or types of commitments for different developing countries.

Since it is very controversial to place this demand so directly, there is publicity of the need for a “comprehensive agreement”, to replace the Kyoto protocol. 

Another problem is the refusal of the United States and Australia to join the Kyoto Protocol or follow its emission targets. The US has complained that Kyoto lets off the big developing countries off the hook, and it used this as a reason for pulling out of Kyoto.

Several European countries, having woken up to the realities of climate science, want the United States to be part of a post-2012 set of targets for emission cuts, and to somehow also pull in some developing countries either to commit to cut their emissions or to undertake semi-hard commitments.

But many developing countries are not yet ready to undertake legally binding or semi-binding commitments. For a start, the developed countries have not yet lived up to their commitments – either to adequately cut their emissions, or to provide funds and technology to developing countries.

Second, they argue that what is important is not the total emissions put out by a country, but its per capita emissions. And most developing countries’ emissions per person are still low compared to developed countries’ levels.

Third, they are concerned that if they have to curb their emissions, their economic and social development will be affected. There are recent studies showing that growth will be hardly affected (only reduced by 0.12% a year) if the required deep emission cuts are done in a proper way. 

Whether to put an end to the Kyoto Protocol or to create a “new post-2012 treaty” is by no means on the cards in Bali. We should not proceed to these important climate talks with wrong expectations, for then it would be harder to achieve success.