by Martin Khor
Monday 2 November 2009
Crunch time for climate talks
This week in Barcelona will see the global
climate talks having its last five days before Copenhagen. It will have
to deal with several intractable issues.
Only five negotiating
days are left to prepare for the well-anticipated Copenhagen
climate conference in December. And these five days take place this
week in Barcelona,
the Spanish city famed for its exciting culture and food.
There will be little time for sight-seeing or feasting this time around.
represents perhaps the last chance for the countries to go for a deal.
“Seal the deal” is the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s
famous slogan. The message is that if there is no deal in Copenhagen, the world is
doomed to a future of global warming that leads to sea rise, glacial
melting, floods and agricultural productivity loss.
Despite all the attention given to this crisis the last couple of years,
it appears that a “deal” is far from being on the table. The following
are some of the knots to be resolved.
First, the developed countries have to commit to deep emission cuts,
at least by 25 to 40 per cent by 2020 compared to 1990. But this is
just not happening. The individual offers only add up to 11-18 per
cent, if the United States
And it is at precisely this moment that almost all the developed countries
made clear they intend to dump the Kyoto Protocol (which has internationally
legally binding emission reduction targets) for a new agreement that
seems to merely involve national pledges and a peer review process.
The developing countries have cried “Foul”, and are expected to insist
that unless the rich countries re-commit themselves to bind their emission-reduction
targets for the period 2013-2020 at an ambitious level and within Kyoto, there can be no deal in Copenhagen.
Second, the developing countries have agreed they will also take mitigation
actions, but they will not bind these inside an international treaty
because they were not responsible for the climate crisis, their emission
levels are still low, and they are still at an early development stage.
Moreover, the developing countries agree their mitigation actions will
for the first time be monitored, reported on and verified (known as
MRV). But it was also agreed that these actions will be enabled and
supported by transfers of finance and technology, which will also be
subjected to MRV procedures.
However there are now disagreements on what the developing countries
are to do. Some developed countries like the United States
want the developing countries, or at least the “advanced” ones, to also
have targets to reduce their emissions or at least to deviate from “business
as usual” growth levels.
The developing countries are objecting that this imposes new obligations
that were never agreed to, and that they cannot commit in a global treaty
to cut emissions, although they will do their best in their own national
Third, the developed countries are pushing for a “global goal” to cut
global emissions by 50% by 2050 (compared to 1990). But they have also
mentioned a target of 80% cut for themselves.
The developing countries will, in this scenario, have to cut by 20%
in absolute terms, and by 60% in per capita terms (since population
will double in that period). This is a big challenge whose nature
and enormity they have yet to understand, let alone accept.
Thus a “global goal”, though it appears simple, is fraught with many
complex and serious issues, including that of equity and the prospect
or otherwise of future development.
Fourth is the finance issue. Developing countries are fighting for
a new climate fund to be set up inside the UN climate convention, with
equitable representation by all regions. They have asked that developed
countries contribute 1% of their GNP (or about US$400 billion) annually
into this fund. Recently some groupings and countries called for 2
to 5 percent of GNP.
So far the developed countries have balked at these requests. Europe
wants to use “existing institutions” (code for the World Bank or Global
Environment Facility) and not a new fund. Last week it also indicated
it would agree to only 20-40 billion euros in public funds, of which
it would contribute 2-15 billion euros.
This is a far cry
from the requested amount, and also from the US$500-600 billion a year
that the United Nations has estimated is needed by developing countries
to fight climate change.
Fifth is the technology issue. Developing countries have decried the
fact that there has been little if any transfer of climate friendly
technologies ever since the Climate Convention’s birth in 1992. They
want a new technology body inside the Convention that can draw up and
implement a Technology Action Plan.
This body will also identify barriers to technology transfer, including
intellectual property, and facilitate the developing countries’ access
to technologies at affordable prices. It will promote cooperation in
research and development, build networks of technology centres, and
help developing countries develop, make and design their own technologies.
But the developed countries are objecting even to a new technology body
inside the Convention, and they are adamant that intellectual property
issues be not included in a global deal. The suspicion is that they
want to maintain and expand their technological dominance and use climate
change as a new area to develop economic competitiveness.
This is against the spirit of international cooperation for the common
battle against climate change. Unfortunately, the climate talks over
the past year has shifted from being one on cooperation for the environment
to one on gaining positions for future battles for economic and trade
Sixth is the issue of adaptation, or the capacity of developing countries
to cope with the effects of climate change. This involves activities
like the building of sea walls to cope with sea level rise, flood prevention,
and adapting to the agriculture and health impacts. Developing countries
want a new adaptation framework, and more funds to enable this range
On top of the above are many other issues, including how to deal with
forests and the funding to slow down or stop deforestation and to re-grow
the forests, how to treat “market mechanisms” such as the regulation
and growth of the carbon market, and how to handle “offsets”, or the
process by which developed countries pay developing countries to undertake
mitigation actions on their behalf, so that the former can meet their
emission reduction targets.
If the above issues cannot be resolved in Copenhagen,
the conference will not sign onto full decisions or agreements. There
is already a plan to have a “Political Declaration” instead, which may
presumably lay down the principles and some decisions, and direct the
negotiators to continue the climate talks next year.
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