by Martin Khor
9 November 2009
There is a continued attempt to shift the burden of responsibility to
developing countries, and in violation of principles of the UNFCCC and
Bali Action Plan.
The United Nations climate talks in Barcelona
last week ended disappointingly as there was little progress on the
key political issues, and a few dramatic events that showed the depth
of the impasse.
It was the last session before the Copenhagen
conference in December, and it lost the last chance to closing the gaps
on the many issues still outstanding.
But it was not all doom and gloom. There was some advance in clarifying
some issues, for example some new texts were discussed in finance and
They did not bridge the differences, but helped countries to clarify
their positions better and thus enabled decisions on key issues to be
made in Copenhagen (such as the setting up of a Fund inside the UN’s
climate convention, and whether to set up a new executive body to decide
on technology transfer issues inside the UNFCCC).
However differences on some key issues remained and in some cases
deepened, which is not a positive sign for Copenhagen.
First is the future of the Kyoto Protocol. What was signaled in
Bangkok in early October was confirmed
that almost all the developed countries have decided to abandon the
They apparently want to establish a new agreement, which is likely
to be a climb down from the internationally legally binding regime that
was Kyoto, to a collection of
national efforts and peer review of performance, in the new agreement.
The developing countries made clear in Barcelona that they would
not accept this climb-down and that the developed countries have to
make clear they will remain in KP and seriously negotiate a second commitment
period (that starts in 2013) in Copenhagen.
Second is the very low level of ambition of developed countries
in emission reduction. Developing countries have called for an aggregate
cut of at least 40% by 2020 compared to 1990.
The latest figures revealed at Barcelona
is that the national announcements amount to only 16-23% (excluding
the US, Secretariat data) and 11-17% (including the
to an estimate of the small island states). The developing countries
are aghast at such low levels of commitments, which do not form a basis
of an environmentally ambitious outcome in Copenhagen.
Third is the continued attempt to shift the burden of responsibility
to developing countries, and in violation of the principles and provisions
of the Convention and the Bali Action Plan.
Developed countries at Barcelona
proposed to blur the distinction between the differentiated responsibilities
of developed countries (mitigation commitments that are legally binding)
and developing countries (mitigation actions enabled and supported by
finance and technology).
The attempt included getting developing countries to adhere to new and
broad reporting and verification procedures similar to developed countries,
to get some “advanced developing countries” to adhere to reduction emission
targets, and to get developing countries in general to have emissions
“deviation from business as usual by 15 to 30 percent”. These were
not agreed to in Bali nor are they
in the Convention’s provisions.
Fourth, the adequate means to enable developing countries to take
actions, are still not forthcoming. On finance, the developed countries
have yet as a group to respond to the finance proposals of the developing
countries which rage from 1 to 5 percent of GNP. The EU’s recent announcement
of a willingness to consider Euro 22 to 50 billion by 2020 of international
public finance is inadequate, and more details are needed on this as
well as Europe’s own share.
On technology transfer, there is a reluctance of developed countries
to agree to setting up an executive body to decide on technology issues
and to effect technology transfer. An advisory group is not good enough,
especially since there has been very little tech-transfer achieved under
the Convention for the past decade and half.
Fifth, there is a difference over the “shared vision” and a long-term
global goal for emissions reduction. Some developed countries confirmed
their proposal for a global 50% emissions cut by 2050 compared to 1990,
and a 80% cut for themselves. However what was unstated is that this
requires developing countries to also cut by 20% in absolute terms and
60% in per capita terms. Some developing countries have to cut by significantly
more than 60% from the 2009 level.
Thus the “burden” in percentage terms is almost the same. Yet the
massive finance and technology transfers that may enable developing
countries to take on a part of this challenge is not forthcoming. The
figures have to be discussed more, the developed countries have to undertake
“negative emissions” (achieve net emissions reduction, below zero) and
the finance and technology issues have to be resolved beforehand.
The above are some of the issues that have to be resolved if Copenhagen is to be a success.
Whatever is the nature or form of the outcome (whether a full deal or
a framework of a deal, or a decision to continue the talks), the aspects
of environment, equity and North-South balance have to be taken care
At the closing plenary
in Barcelona, China’s
delegation chief, Su Wei, gave a direct message. “To those developed
countries who are standing there waiting for developing countries to
act, please look ahead,” he said. “We, the developing countries, have
already left you behind, you cannot use developing countries as an excuse
for your inaction any more.
“Please wake up and to see that Copenhagen
is just miles away, you have to get running in order catch up. Otherwise,
you will fail in the race to Copenhagen
And India’s special
envoy on climate change, Shyam Saran, rejected attempts to already declare
failure at Barcelona and downgrade our expectations from Copenhagen.
“To talk about a political agreement instead of a legally binding outcome,
to suggest that we may be able to achieve some result only by the end
of 2010, these are prophecies which we must dismiss,” he said.
The warnings from the two largest developing countries indicate that
the Copenhagen conference will
see a major battle, unless informal meetings and talks among some countries
help to bridge the gaps.
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