What’s obstructing the Copenhagen deal?

Last month in Bangkok, as the Canadian lead negotiator was mid-way through his keynote that proposed a radical measure of abandoning most parts of Kyoto protocol, dozens of delegates from developing nations walked out. This was only the latest symptom of the rapidly growing rift between the developed and the developing nations. 

At the Bangkok negotiations, the American delegation spoke from a very familiar script and proposed that developing nations put their emission cutting targets on the table. Such a statement of ‘You first’ comes at a time when it is abundantly clear that USA will not be able to pass a climate change bill outlining its emission targets. What is especially unfortunate is that this particular stance of USA and other developed nations (or Annex 1 countries as the Kyoto Protocol refers to them) is derailing all possibilities of reaching a fair deal in Copenhagen. I can only agree with the Chinese delegate who so bluntly remarked that the ‘rich nations are trying to kill the Kyoto pact’.

 America needs Your to act first

The Indian minister of state for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh has the very unenviable job of being India’s main spokesperson on the COP-15 and other climate change issues and is under tremendous pressure from the national and international factors to commit to emission targets. And as India and other G-77 nations have been vehemently saying, binding emission targets are absolutely unacceptable. The Indian tone till recently has been provocative, but that has been softening over the past few months starting from Hillary’s trip in the summer to yesterday when Jairam Ramesh agreed to an international audit for India’s greenhouse gas mitigation steps. And I’m certain this is not due to mounting pressure, but due to the very real fear of not reaching a deal in Copenhagen this December.

 Jairam Ramesh

The Indian minister recently publicy aired views that a deal in December at Copenhagen was unlikely and another meeting “next summer” would be required. The Indian minister also suggested ‘scaling down ambitions’. This pessimism is not without merit after the Bangkok talks ended on 11th October, when even Yves de Boer, UN climate change chief, conceded that there has been ‘no advancement on key political issues’.

Not reaching a deal is simply unacceptable and will be a major failure in our global political system which cannot come to an agreement to even tackle the major challenge of this century. I’ve briefly described the key political issues and the obstacles standing in the way of an agreement here:

1. Replacing the Kyoto protocol with a new pact: Few nations lead by the US called for replacing the Kyoto protocol framework completely which would require India and China to commit to binding emission targets. The new framework will share similar principles with Kyoto, but call for emission targets from developing nations.

 What about Kyoto?

Obstacles: This is unacceptable to most countries because it would mean restarting the negotiations governed by a new framework, certainly unachievable before December. Developing nations especially oppose this because they believe it’s in violation of the ‘the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, also accounting for the historical responsibility of developed countries, providing an equitable approach to fair burden sharing.’ on which Kyoto protocol was built on. This displeasure was so radically demonstrated when delegates walked out of Canada’s keynote which proposed creating a new pact.

2. Emission targets of industrialized nations: In principle all nations agree that it is critical to limit temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels. But there’s little agreement on the exact emissions target for each country. Annex 1 countries are targeting upto 23% decrease from 1990 levels, while scientists say 40% is the necessary target to adhere to the temperature limit of 2 degrees Celsius.

Obstacles: Unfortunately even this number is hypothetical because most annex 1 countries have not passed laws with any such specific target. The Nobel committee recognized Obama’s climate change leadership due to which “the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting.” Its a Nobel Peace prize in vain because it is improbable that the US senate can pass a bill outlining the emission target in such a short period before the COP. Not in the least because of the concurrent debate on its health bill or the major opposition from the Republican party. Without the USA, there’s no possibility of a successful Copenhagen protocol.

3. Emission targets of developing nations: There is a call for major developing nations to agree to binding emission targets, which will use a future year as the base. This is because according to current trends, they’re on an unsustainable GHG emissions growth path.

 China emissions

Obstacles: Major developing nations oppose this because it goes against the Kyoto protocol which doesn’t need emission commitments from developing countries. In addition there is no concrete agreement on the financing and technology transfers that are a must to achieve even the most modest of targets. Without a predictable channel of financing, all emission targets will be pulled out of thin air and simply unachievable. 

4. Financing commitments: The Kyoto protocol outlines that developed countries will provide adequate, additional and predictable financing to developing nations to meet the requirements expected from developing nation parties. This is one of the pillars of Kyoto protocol to channelize funding for mitigation and adaptation in developing nations.

Obstacles: There is no binding financing commitment signed by a developed nation. The issue is especially complicated after the recent recession, which has contracted national coffers considerably. And EU is considering cutting international aid and use the same for climate change financing. Unfortunately few developing nations have put a number to the amount of financing they need to fund their national plans of mitigation and adaptation. Financing is a major concern of all developing nations and India for one might not sign the final deal if the financing mechanism is inadequate or vague. The African leaders estimated the cost of mitigation to be 44 billion Euros for their continent which emits just 4% of the world’s GHGs.

All these issues will be the major factors that will lead to either a half baked deal in Copenhagen or a deal unacceptable to many. We especially need to conciliate the developed and the developing nations.

I found the four expectations of Yves de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be the best articulation of the least that should come out of the Copenhagen deal. 

1. How much are the industrialized countries willing to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases?
2. How much are major developing countries such as China and India willing to do to limit the growth of their emissions?
3. How is the help needed by developing countries to engage in reducing their emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change going to be financed?
4. How is that money going to be managed?

Simple enough? Now lets work on achieving this! Lets seal the deal.

crossposted on Th!nk About It blog.


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