Russia et al - victim or victimizer?

June 05, 2013

Of the three bodies gathering at Bonn, two—SBSTA and ADP— have successfully adopted their agenda for the next two weeks. The SBI, however, is yet to. The reason? Russia and its brothers — Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. They are unhappy about the treatment meted out to them during the recent Doha COP in November 2012 where the President of the COP had gaveled through the decisions even as Russia raised its flag to state its concern against amendments made to the Kyoto Protocol for its second commitment period, or KP2. Now, they have taken matters into their hands and have proposed discussing “Procedural and legal issues relating to decision-making by the Conference of the Parties and the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol”, an item they have added to the SBI agenda, few days prior to the beginning of the meeting at Bonn. Other parties are opposing this on several fronts: some fear that Russia and others want the Doha decisions reviewed whereas others feel the Russian bear feels cheated and disrespected and is keen on seeking revenge by delaying matters. 

Source: Carbon Market Watch Policy Brief. Doha Decisions on the Kyoto surplus explained, March 2013.

But what about the amendments are these countries unhappy about, especially when Russia has not even signed up for KP2? The issue mostly concerns Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan which have signed up for KP2. Firstly, these countries are considered economies-in-transition (EIT), countries belonging to former USSR that were awarded an excess of emission permits owing to their collapsed economies. This surplus of emission permits they possess has come to be known as “hot air”, engineered through baseline setting and climate politics but not through real emissions reduction. The Doha amendment to the Kyoto Protocol essentially prevents the creation of new “hot air” a second time around for these countries. It has restricted the amount of AAUs (assigned amount units) for KP2 equivalent to the average of emissions these countries emitted between 2008 and 2010. For Ukraine, who has a surplus of more than 2.5 billion units from KP1 (first commitment period), it is free to use this surplus in complying with its KP2 commitment (see graph). The problem arises with Belarus and Kazakhstan who did not take part in KP1 and have no such surplus to help them meet their KP2 commitments and will now have to buy AAUs from others to meet their commitments. Meanwhile, Russia who has not signed up to KP2 is not impacted by any of this. This, at worst, may push these countries to not ratify the second commitment period and continue to grow their emissions and at best could mean they begin to mitigate and place constraints on their emissions, which is what they should be doing under the Kyoto Protocol anyway. 

Back to SBI, it remains to be seen how long Russia et al will hold the process hostage to ensure their individual interests are being served. Up until now, this means that SBI is yet to start formal work on any of the items listed under its provisional agenda.