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Global Trends by Martin Khor

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Deadlock at Copenhagen climate summit 

With only days to go before political leaders arrive, the Copenhagen climate summit is in the grip of a deadlock over the future of the global climate regime

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More than half way through the UN Copenhagen Climate Conference, the fate of the meeting lies in the balance between partial success and outright failure.

The conference has just completed its first week.  The more difficult and tense part will come this second week, when a hundred Presidents and Prime Ministers are expected to attend on 17 and 18 December.

The hope is that they will be presented with a draft of an “agreed outcome” or Declaration that the officials and Ministers have prepared.  But the way the talks have gone so far, it is more likely the political leaders may have to make some of the key decisions themselves.

There are just too many key issues still unresolved.  As predicted last week by Global Trends, the biggest contentious issue that has emerged in the last few days is the shape and structure of the future global climate regime.

The developed countries, especially Japan and Europe, are insisting that a new agreement be established that replaces the present Kyoto Protocol.  Almost all members of the UN Climate Convention are members of this protocol, with the United States as a notable exception. 

Since the US does not want to join, the other developed countries don’t want to continue being in it, and instead want to set up another treaty that includes the US but that also places new obligations on the developing countries to act on their emissions. 

This is unacceptable to the developing countries, since the new treaty will most likely not place strict and legally binding commitments on the developed countries to cut their emissions, unlike the Kyoto Protocol. 

Moreover the developing countries under the present rules are not obliged to take on legally binding emission-cutting commitments, and they don’t want to be pushed at this late stage into taking on new obligations that is not mandated in the Bali Action Plan and that they fear will adversely affect their economic development, particularly since the promise of finance and technology transfer has not been fulfilled.        

When new drafts of the decisions were issued last Thursday at the conference by the Chairs of the two main working groups, Europe and Japan led an attack on them as they were based on the premise that the Kyoto Protocol would remain.  For more than a day they even refused to engage in the talks on the Kyoto Protocol, and instead wanted consultations with the Chairs to see if their texts could be modified.

At a plenary meeting last Friday, Europe and Japan again voiced their opposition to the texts.  The extension of the Kyoto Protocol won’t solve the need to reduce emissions, they said.  A “single agreement” that also includes the US and the developing countries is needed instead.

At the same meeting, the developing countries insisted that the Kyoto Protocol continues and that the developed countries agree to cut their emissions of Greenhouse Gases by at least 40% by 2020, compared to 1990 levels.  And that separately, through Decisions in the Convention, the US should commit to a similar effort in a Decision in the Convention, while the developing countries would take voluntary mitigation actions, supported by finance and technology transfers. 

In the past weeks, some developing countries have been announcing national targets.  For example, China stated it would decrease the emissions intensity of its GNP by 40 to 45 per cent by 2020 compared to the 2005 level.  For each unit of output, it would emit 40-45% less Greenhouse Gases.  This is quite an ambitious target, which is more than the developed countries themselves have achieved in recent years, according to a Chinese scientist at a forum held at the conference centre last week.

But the Europeans were not impressed, saying that the Chinese target is not enough.  And at the conference, they and other developed countries kept stressing that the developing countries have to commit to do more, such as to deviate from their “business as usual” emissions level by 15-30% by 2020.

Such an obligation is not what was agreed to at the Bali conference two years ago, and has been rejected by most developing countries, which are ready to make national targets voluntarily but do not want to bind these targets in a treaty. 

They argued strongly for a “two track” outcome in Copenhagen.  Track 1 is an agreement for a second period of the Kyoto Protocol (starting 2013) in which developed countries (except the US) commit to deep emission cuts.   Track 2 is a set of Decisions in the Convention in which the US will make a emission-reduction commitment similar to the other developed countries, while developing countries agree to take mitigation actions backed by finance and technology (and these are subject to being measured, reported on and verified).

“The lack of progress in the negotiations and lack of will by developed countries to engage is unacceptable, and we are opposed to their intent to kill the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding instrument we now have,” said the Group of 77 and China chairman, which is Sudan.

Supporting this, Malaysia said it was disappointed with the developed countries’ attitude. “Any efforts by them to deny their historical responsibility will slow down the negotiations,” it added.

“The sanctity of the two tracks must be maintained and we must avoid any side-stepping from our main work to conclude the second period of the Kyoto Protocol,” said India.  

China also stressed the twin track system was what was agreed by the world in Bali, and now the world was watching again as the conference has only a few days left, while developed countries have not shown the political will to act.

Bolivia chided the developed countries, which is responsible for 75% of the historical emissions in the atmosphere, for wanting to kill the Kyoto Protocol in order to deny repaying the climate debt they owe to developing countries and to Mother Earth.  “Now they say they want to wait for others to pledge before they make their response.  That’s not a responsible attitude.”

As the wrangling went on in the conference halls, over 100,000 people marched through Copenhagen streets, demanding action as well as “climate justice” from the world’s leaders.

The deadlock in the talks, especially on whether the Kyoto Protocol will survive and whether there will be an outcome in two tracks, or a new single agreement, is threatening a successful conclusion to the conference.  Only days remain before the Presidents and Prime Ministers turn up on 17-18 December, hoping to sign a historic climate deal.

Whether there is a partial deal, which must at least include the architecture of the climate regime, or only an agreement to keep on talking, remains to be seen.

 


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