The Usual Blame Game At Climate Change Talks


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By Jaya Ramachandran

Government ministers from around the world concluded two-week long intensive talks on global climate change on May 25 in Bonn without reaching any substantial accords that would pave the way for a new global treaty. It was the first meeting since the UN conference in Durban from November 28 to December 9, 2011 – and was characterised by the usual blame games.

A developed country participant was heard accusing China and India, both rapidly growing economies with an increasing share of global emissions, of procrastinating talks on a new global climate change pact. “It’s incredibly frustrating to have achieved so little,” the participant said. “We’re stepping backwards, not forwards.”

Connie Hedegaard, the European Union’s first ever Commissioner for Climate Action, stated: “The world cannot afford that a few want to backtrack from what was agreed in Durban only five months ago. Durban was – and is – a delicately balanced package where all elements must be delivered at the same pace. It is not a pick and choose menu. It is very worrisome that attempts to backtrack have been so obvious and time-consuming in the Bonn talks over the last two weeks.”

The Xinhua news agency quoted a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei averring in Beijing on May 25 that the country holds fast to the Durban outcome and will work with the international community to promote negotiations on climate change.

The Durban talks saw the endorsement of a package of decisions on topics such as the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the Green Climate Fund and a new process for arranging emission-cutting pledges after 2020. Hong said China has been actively participating in international cooperation efforts to cope with climate change and played a positive role in achieving the package deals at the Durban talks.

Earlier on May 23, China’s chief negotiator Su Wei had criticized at Bonn talks some developed countries for using the ‘Durban Platform’ as a means to jump from the legally-binding system established under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). China wants negotiations on the Durban Platform to be based on the legally-binding system established under the UNFCCC, said Hong.

Hong said the negotiations should adhere to the principles of equity and “common but differentiated responsibilities,” as well as address the balance between participants’ historical responsibilities and practical capabilities.

Noting that Western countries have historically been responsible for carbon emissions during their respective industrialization processes, Hong said they should take substantial measures to reduce gas emissions, implement their commitments in relevant international accords and provide financial and technological support to developing countries.

“China is willing to work with all parties to carry out the Durban outcomes and jointly push forward the negotiation process,” he said, and called on developed economies, including EU member states, to show their political sincerity in cooperating with developing countries to jointly advance the climate change talks.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said progress had been made at the Bonn talks: “Work at this session has been productive. Countries can now press on to ensure elements are in place to adopt the Doha amendment to the Kyoto Protocol. I am pleased to say that the Bonn meeting produced more clarity on the Protocols’s technical and legal details and options to enable a smooth transition between the two commitment periods of the protocol.”

Decisions scheduled to be taken at the UN climate change conference in Doha (Qatar) from November 26 to December 7, 2012 include whether the second commitment period will be for five or eight years and on the precise emission reduction commitments of industrialised countries that have obligations under the Protocol.

In terms of providing support to developing countries to adapt to climate change and to build their own sustainable energy futures, the Bonn meeting resulted in a raft of agreements relating to technology, finance and capacity-building (see below for details), which are also set to be adopted in Doha, the UNFCCC insisted.

Meanwhile, the new ADP negotiation (the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) had been launched and its agenda agreed. The ADP is tasked to adopt a new global climate agreement by 2015, to take effect from 2020, and also to find ways to raise global ambition to act on climate change before 2020, the UNFCCC stated.

Figueres said: “The agenda guarantees that attention is given both to the 2015 agreement, as well as to efforts to raise ambition to curb greenhouse gases up to 2020. This is a very important component of the Durban Platform and a response to what science is telling us on a repeated basis, namely that current mitigation efforts are not sufficient.”

The UN’s top climate change official noted that the International Energy Agency (IEA) had warned that the door to avoiding a maximum 2 degrees Celsius global average temperature rise is about to close. The IEA noted that greenhouse gas emissions have reached a record high and would need to peak no later than 2017 for the world to have half a chance of staying below the 2 degrees Celsius rise.

The IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2011, which sets out an energy pathway consistent with a 50% chance of limiting the increase in the average global temperature to 2°C, requires CO2 emissions to peak at 32.6 Gt no later than 2017, i.e. just 1.0 Gt above 2011 levels. It sees a decoupling of CO2 emissions from global GDP, but stresses that much still needs to be done to reach that goal as the rate of growth in CO2 emissions in 2011 exceeded that of global GDP (gross domestic product).

In 2011, a 6.1% increase in CO2 emissions in countries outside the OECD group of developed countries was only partly offset by a 0.6% reduction in emissions inside the bloc. China made the largest contribution to the global increase, with its emissions rising by 720 million tonnes (Mt), or 9.3%, primarily due to higher coal consumption.

“What China has done over such a short period of time to improve energy efficiency and deploy clean energy is already paying major dividends to the global environment”, said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol Dr. Birol. China’s carbon intensity – the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of GDP – fell by 15% between 2005 and 2011. Had these gains not been made, China’s CO2 emissions in 2011 would have been higher by 1.5 Gt., the IEA World Energy Outlook pointed out.

India’s emissions rose by 140 Mt, or 8.7%, moving it ahead of Russia to become the fourth largest emitter behind China, the United States, and the European Union. Despite these increases, per-capita CO2 emissions in China and India still remain just 63% and 15% of the OECD average respectively, the report added.

Looking ahead, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Figueres called on governments to continue intensive, informal work on detailed substantive issues before the UN Conference in Doha. “Ministers can also take every opportunity with their governments and each other to resolve the outstanding high-level political issues that will deliver the next, successful step, in Doha,” she said.

With 195 Parties, the UNFCCC has near universal membership and is the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol has been ratified by 193 of the UNFCCC Parties. Under the Protocol, 37 States, consisting of highly industrialized countries and countries undergoing the process of transition to a market economy, have legally binding emission limitation and reduction commitments. The ultimate objective of both treaties is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.


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