Politics pull down climate talks, emission ups

Possibility of a global treaty looks thin in Durban later this year

June 17 / Bonn

By Aditya Ghosh

Bonn: Global emissions peaked in 2010 to an all time high inspiring some hope of reviving the world economy out of the gloom of recession that the world has been plagued by for over three years now. But the hope turns out to be a harbinger of another disaster. Scientists warn that the temperature of the earth at this rate of emission would increase faster and trigger catastrophic impacts of climate change sooner.

However, the warning about this rather worrying threshold that humanity might face within perceivable future did not help countries cross the perpetual political barriers that they have locked themselves in ever since the climate talks at Copenhagen Conference of Parties (CoP) in 2009. A CoP is an annual negotiations forum for political leaders across the world to design a global treaty that would help sharing the responsibility and the burden of increasing emissions to arrest increase of global temperature to 20C that scientists claim would limit impacts of climate to manageable proportions.

But thousands of negotiators gathered in Bonn for past two weeks between June 7 and June 17 failed yet again to guide climate talks to penetrate through the political stonewall despite working in a frenzy ? almost round the clock ? to concede on various technical matters. A global treaty now seems quite improbable even in this year’s CoP to be held in Durban in December. 

A despondent Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN climate secretariat said at the close of the Bonn meeting, “Climate change talks are the most important negotiations the world has ever seen, but governments, business and civil society cannot solve it in one meeting.

Countries are being very creative, exploring all options.”

The creativity however, did not seem to yield results in the key areas where the North and the South are stuck. The South demands a legally binding commitment on emissions reduction from wealthy countries that would be a logical extension of Kyoto Protocol (KP), signed in 1997 as the first and only regime that inscribed legally binding targets of emission reduction for developed countries. However, United States, the biggest emitter when Kyoto was signed and now second to China, never ratified the protocol. The term of Kyoto ends in 2012 and world has been trying to negotiate for a similar mechanism since past three years without any success.

While countries urged for another round of negotiations before this year’s COP, it is not sure if a cash-strapped United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be able to organize one. The developed countries which fund UNFCCC coffers have refused to do so in wake of inconclusive negotiations till now, increasing pressure on the poorer countries to tow the line adopted by wealthy nations.

Figueres stated the obvious when she warned that there could a gap between commitment periods for the Kyoto Protocol. "Governments can double their efforts and come forward with middle ground solutions and options which are acceptable to all sides," she said. 

Emission commitments: Bonn Battles over Kyoto
In Bonn, Japan and Russia were joined by Canada, Australia and New Zealand, all KP signatories, refused to join a second commitment period. With all major developed country emitters shifting out of any binding emissions reductions target, the European Union is the only block of countries left to sign up another legally binding emissions regime, albeit conditionally.

“We need everyone aboard, including the developing countries who committed to targets in Cancun Agreements. A second commitment period on its own is not going to cut emissions. We need to see more progress," said Jozsef Feiler, the EU spokesperson.

EU contributes to 14 per cent of global emissions and together with all developed countries, the US contributes to about 20 per cent while Japan, Russia, Canada, Australia and other comprise a little more than seven per cent.

The growth of emissions however is much sharper in the developing countries, according to a report published this year by International Energy Agency. However, on a per capita basis, OECD countries collectively emitted 10 tonnes, compared with 5.8 tonnes for China, and 1.5 tonnes in India.

But developed countries have been harping upon the faster rate of increase in developing countries. The Australian negotiators repeatedly pointed out during negotiations that a second commitment period to Kyoto, if any, would only address to about 17 per cent of emissions increase if emissions from developing countries such as India, China, Brazil and South Africa are not accounted for.

For the developing countries, there is a lot more to account that includes historic emissions responsible for global warming, ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ for tackling the emissions that was agreed upon in Bali climate talks in 2007 and right to develop and tackle poverty faster that is not possible otherwise under any binding mitigation regime. “Extension of KP for us is the non-negotiable. We are not even serious in discussing the technical aspects if Kyoto is dead,” said RR Rashmi, the Indian negotiator.

Future of mitigation in jeopardy 
Developed countries negotiating under the AW-KP track ? many of whom have a clear and stated position on not inscribing any targets in a second commitment period under any legally binding emission regime ? want to import the legal matters, mechanisms and the basket of methodologies to AW-LCA, a track that discusses long term cooperative action among countries.

Under the AW-LCA, there are Cancun Pledges on mitigation made last year by developed countries that essentially urged to convert the entire regime of GHG reductions into a voluntary process. But there is more than what meets the eyes here, a couple of reports have analysed these pledges and found out that developed countries can meet their modest targets even without any actual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) domestically.

“Thanks to accounting loopholes, in all 12 scenarios of conditional GHG reductions by Annexe 1 countries, they don’t even need to do anything extra as surplus Assigned Amount Units (AAUs), airlines and bunker fuels, surplus land use change would be good enough for them to meet their targets,” said Sivan Kartha, senior scientist, Stockholm Environment Institute, who compiled one of the studies.

According to Ecofys, a global emissions watchdog, the gigaton gap between what is required to keep temperature increase to 20C and where the pledges take us, was far higher than estimates made in a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) study. “With the most stringent proposed reductions and stringent accounting, we have calculated that the remaining gap would be 8-12 billion tones against UNEP projections of 4-5 gigatonnes,” said Niklas Höhne, director of energy and climate policy, Ecofys.

Though emissions reduced worldwide between 2008 and 2009 owing to economic recession, in 2010 emissions jumped to an all time high. The USA has been the source of largest emission increase in any developed country since 1990. “The emissions in EU27, however, have decreased since 1990,” said Marion Vieweg, project leader, Climate Analytics.

The developing countries have done substantially better in their pledges and in action as well. “China has achieved a 19 per cent improvement in energy efficiency (energy consumer per unit of GDP) between 2006 and 2010, only one per cent short of its target of 20 per cent for that period,” pointed out Höhne.

Durban deadlock
In a meeting organized by South Africa during Bonn negotiations to outline expectations from various countries in this year’s CoP, the difference between ambitions and aspirations of different countries clearly underlined fatigue of the developing countries over the deadlocks created by the developed countries, who preferred to remain engaged in procedural matters, avoiding the political commitment required to make meaningful progress at Durban.

The wealthy nations also refused to contribute further to the budget of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), making it impossible to have another round of meetings before Durban CoP. The UNFCCC Executive Secretary said that the coffers of the secretariat were empty and therefore, the secretariat could not bear the cost of organizing an extra session between now and Durban. This can be seriously hurt the negotiations though it could mean a strategy to push for making progress in the current round of talks.

Consensus has been difficult to come by and certainly does not seem probable in the near future, not at least in the Petersburg where select ministers are meeting to have a dialogue in July. The economic and trade interests have yet proved far superior than the development constraints and rights, and compulsions of those in the brink of climate disasters.

The irony was manifested on the last day plenary session of AW-KP in Bonn attended by representatives from 194 countries, scores from the civil society and journalists from around the world. An inspired speech by the Solomon Island negotiator urging that the cradle of humanity in

Africa must provide a solution to the impasse was greeted with loud applause. And a negotiator, while leaving the room, hissed, “We have all wasted our time here trying to negotiate over technical issues which might just be junked in the next session by our political leaders. We are just applying palliative care to a terminal ill.”


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