Compliance: Polluters turned monitors

November 15, 2000

Should potential defaulters get majority representation on a compliance committee?

How stringent will the Kyoto Protocol's compliance system be? What penalty will offenders pay? Who will decide the penalty for causing climate change? Should potential defaulters be represented on the bench, even if they happen to be the richest nations in the world?

The answer to some of these questions will be decided over the next few days, but so far a compliance fund is proposed. The US wants a predetermined penalty rate to minimise risks. An enforcement branch is proposed, the composition of which is being debated. The South wants equitable geographical representation of the five regional groups. The North proposes equal representation or wants more representation. The offenders, it seems, choose to be their own judges.

Designing a compliance system for the rich is far more difficult than catching and penalising poor errant nations who degrade the environment. Consider the Montreal Protocol. Trade provides the stick to ensure that the nations comply with the commitments made in the convention. But what happens when the rich and powerful do not comply? For instance, can Bangladesh impose trade sanctions against the US for not meeting its climate commitments. For this reason the discussions under compliance could chart new territory, perhaps. The most important question is whether the compliance system that finally evolves, has enough teeth to deter countries from non-compliance.

The current draft proposes a much bracketed compliance fund; a country which does not meet its commitments would pay into the fund. The fund would be administered by an appropriate body. The body would use the income and the interest earned. The fund can then acquire at reasonable rates parts of the assigned amount originating in the commitment period. The rate of non-compliance will be pre-determined. The figures doing the rounds range from US$ 14- US $ 600 per tonne of carbon saved. No credits for guessing which figure stands a better chance.

Big polluters want to live off the future, even more. Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and the US for instance, have proposed that they should be allowed to borrow emissions from future commitment periods.

Another key sticky issue is if the compliance system should restrict itself to the Kyoto Protocol commitments or include, also those commitments referred to in the Framework Convention on Climate Change. For instance, assisting developing countries in adapting to adverse effects of climate change, impacts of response measures and technology transfer. On the first day of the negotiations, a contact group went off in a huddle, discussing the current draft.