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Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday, 5 October 2009

Rich nations plotting death of Kyoto Protocol

Last week’s natural disasters in Asia should have galvanized action at the UN climate talks in Bangkok, but instead developing countries came under attack from rich countries that seem intent on burying the Kyoto Protocol.

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Last week there were three natural disasters in the Asian region – massive floods in Manila, a tsunami in Samoa and the earthquake claiming over a thousand lives in Sumatra.

It was a fitting backdrop to the United Nations climate negotiations that started last Monday in Bangkok, a reminder that natural disasters, some caused by climate change, are becoming more common and devastating.

Inside the UN’s spacious convention halls, the talks were also stormy.  The developed countries delivered one unpleasant surprise after another, leaving the developing countries’ delegations in shock as to the audacity and aggressiveness of the onslaught.

It became clear that most developed countries are unwilling or unable to do their fair share in cutting Greenhouse Gas emissions.  And they are pushing the burden and potential blame on to the developing countries, against the rules of the Climate Convention and its Kyoto Protocol.

Worse, it is also now apparent that the rich countries are preparing to ditch the Kyoto Protocol itself, an agreement that took many years to build, and that is the cornerstone for committing countries to cut their emissions, collectively and individually.

If that happens, it would be a calamity, as there may be nothing to replace it, at least for some time.  Meanwhile, emissions are continuing, the world’s temperature will continue to rise, and the effects multiply.

What an irony that this vanishing of commitment is coming so soon after climate change jumped to the top of the global agenda just one or two years ago, and when the latest scientific data daily inform us that the situation is worse than that reported just two years ago by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The Bangkok talks are on two tracks:  negotiations on emission reduction targets of developed countries from 2013 to possibly 2020 under the Kyoto Protocol, and long-term cooperative action (LCA).

The pledges so far by developed countries are miserably low.  The IPCC has estimated that they have to cut their emissions by 25-40% by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels). Developing countries are calling for an aggregate cut of at least 40%.  The combined cut from national pledges made by these countries come up to only 16-23% (UNFCCC secretariat estimate excluding the US) or 11-18% (including the US, as estimated by the small island states). 

The Chair of the Kyoto Protocol group, John Ashe, on 2 October, gave a caustic analysis of the situation.  Referring to the gap between the developed countries’ pledges and the required cuts, he

said “we will be a laughing stock come 18 December” (the last day of the Copenhagen Climate Conference) if the gap is not closed.

The small island states said that the low pledges were consistent with a 3 degree temperature rise or worse, which would have catastrophic consequences.  It is widely accepted that temperature rise must be limited to 2 degrees above the pre-industrial level, and recent data indicate 1.5 degrees is more accurate, to avoid a disaster.   

China’s Ambassador Yu Qingtai said that in the meeting’s stock-taking exercise, “unfortunately there is hardly any stock to take.”  Unless there is political will, no amount of negotiations will move us ahead.   It accused some Parties of engaging in a “concerted effort to undermine, challenge, and destroy the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, that is the foundation for international cooperation on climate change.”

That principle recognizes that developed countries are responsible for most of the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere and they should take the lead in emissions reduction as well as assist developing countries through finance and technology to also take actions.

Last week the developed countries took the following initiatives that took the developing countries by surprise:

  • They indicated doing away with the Kyoto Protocol (which obliges developed countries to bind emission-reduction targets in a treaty) by advocating a new agreement.  The United States, which is not a KP member, wants only to have a national target without binding it to a global treaty.  It appears to have won over many other developed countries.
  • They seem to be refusing to have a second commitment period under the KP, after the first period expires in 2012.  In the first period, the countries agreed to cut their combined emissions by 5% (from 1990 to 2012).  The developing countries want a second period in which the rich countries cut by at least 40% (in 2020 compared to 1990).
  • They are stressing that developing countries have “common” responsibilities, a code for pulling in the developing countries into emission-reduction obligations, while downplaying the “differentiated” responsibilities that recognize that the developing countries have had little role in the historic emissions and need space for economic development.
  • While the climate convention obliges developed countries to meet the additional costs of developing countries’ actions to combat climate change, the developed countries are now insisting that developing countries also contribute to global public funds.
  • They are attempting to split the developing countries’ unity by creating new categories such as “advanced developing countries” (which are to be subjected to emission-reduction disciplines, and get little global public funds) and “especially vulnerable countries” (which are to be promised global funding).  The definitions and criteria of who is advanced or who is vulnerable are arbitrary and have not been agreed to.
  • Some key developed countries (the US and France) are preparing to use trade protectionism in the name of climate change to block exports from developing countries through a financial charges or tariffs, on the ground that the countries are not doing enough to reduce their emissions.

The developing countries are dismayed by these initiatives, so soon after so many political leaders made stirring speeches and gave firm-sounding pledges to cooperate to fight climate change at the UN Climate Summit in New York on 22 September.

The developing countries, individually and through the G77 and China, are defending their interests by putting their own proposals in the drafts of the documents to be adopted at the Copenhagen conference in December.

It is a huge battle that the countries are engaged in, and the differences between them are large.

There are only ten negotiating days left before the Copenhagen conference in December.  Five of these will be in this coming week, and another five in November in Barcelona.  It is anybody’s guess whether Copenhagen can still be a success or will mark a low point in climate politics.

 


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