By Kwesi W. Obeng
The just ended United Nations Climate Change Conference in Panama barely made progress in resolving the thorniest issues, stalling negotiations to conclude a global agreement later this year in Durban, South Africa to save the planet from overheating.
The future of the Kyoto Protocol, the architecture of any future agreement, long term finance and sources of funding especially for the Green Climate Fund are some of the most fractious issues still outstanding.
Durban, South Africa will be a critical battleground to break the deadlock within the framework of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2011. The Panama talks made progress on a few issues, notably adaptation, agriculture, technology, reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) and Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs).
Panama also agreed on a negotiating text and plans for disbursement of US$30 billion fast-start finance. The fast-start finance pledged has emerged to be neither new nor additional, but as largely repackaged official development assistance, African civil society and developing country governments have said.
In 2010, developed countries undertook at the Cancun UNFCCC meeting to provide US$100 billion each year by 2020 and US$30 billion by 2012 for poor countries to adapt to climate change impacts and move towards low-carbon economies.
The UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol together make up the fundamental global legal framework on climate change. The first period of emission cuts agreed in 1997 expire at the end of 2012. A new round of emission cuts must be agreed in Durban to avoid gaps between the first and second commitment periods to save the earth from tipping.
Canada, Japan and Russia, signatories to the Kyoto Protocol, are determined not to commit to a second period of emission reduction under the Protocol, unless all major economies – and that includes both China and the United States – submit to the same legal terms. The United States is not a signatory to the Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997, established legally binding targets for developed countries to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions linked to the earth’s warming.
The European Union (EU) will renew its commitment to the Protocol but only if it is tied to an agreement that spells out clearly when and how other countries’ pledges will be placed into a legally binding international agreement.
But many other groups including the African Group and 132 member group, G77 and China, are opposed to attempts to phase out the Kyoto Protocol.
Chair of the G77 and China and ambassador of Argentina, Jorge Argüello said ‘the Kyoto Protocol is a cornerstone of the climate change regime, and nothing will be achieved unless it can be extended in Durban’, adding that the second commitment period is paramount for the group.
‘Much as some rich countries like to repeat that discussing scenarios that they oppose is not “realistic” or “practical”, they must recognise that there is no point in insisting on a solution outside the Kyoto Protocol when 132 parties have strongly declared they can only accept a second commitment period as a meaningful outcome,’ Argüello said.
With the front of Parties fractured, the search for alternatives to the Protocol intensified in Panama. An EU proposal includes two parallel treaties one of which extends the Protocol for those covered by the agreement.
The second proposal calls for imposition of binding emissions targets on countries that currently face no legally binding emissions reduction commitments such as the US and emerging economic powers particularly China, India and Brazil.
Proposals for a temporary treaty that extends the Protocol until 2015 to safeguard the legal foundations and mechanisms and allow negotiations for comprehensive agreement to be reached beyond Durban seem to have gained a bit of ground in Panama.
Rich countries are pushing for a new agreement to replace or phase out the Kyoto Protocol. These countries, especially the United States, the largest historical emitter of global warming substances, Canada, Japan and Russia insist on a legal agreement that commits all ‘major economies’ in a symmetrical fashion where ‘the commitments of Parties were unconditional and not linked to the provision of finance.
While this position may sound reasonable because the mitigation actions of developing countries are not part of the Kyoto Protocol, it undermines the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ enshrined in the UNFCCC treaty which recognises the disproportionately high historical contribution of developed countries to climate change which therefore enjoins these countries to bear greater share of the cost of preventing the earth from warming out of control.
But in its current shape, the proposed new agreement – with its weak mitigation regime ‘pledge and review’ mechanism and ‘do as you please approach’ – will transfer the enormous burden of climate change to developing countries who have contributed the least to the phenomenon and who will also suffer the worst consequences of climate change in the coming decades.
African CSOs and the larger global climate justice movement see the actions of the developed countries as both self-serving and dangerous to humanity.
Third World Network (TWN) noted at a session during the Panama climate talks that Kyoto Protocol Parties refusing to undertake a second period of emission reduction commitments were in breach of their international obligations and the mandate for the UNFCCC’s Ad-Hoc Working Group on Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) negotiations.
‘The Kyoto Protocol is the only option we have and Durban is the last opportunity to ensure that internationally binding emission reduction commitments with international rules and compliance continue and do not lapse or end altogether’, TWN said. TWN is a member of the global Climate Justice Now movement
This new treaty which developed countries want to replace the Kyoto Protocol with, TWN said will ‘enshrine in international law a weak domestic “pledge and review” system that will no longer be rooted in international commitments, be backed up by the rule of international law, or be based on a consideration of what science says is necessary’.
Ominously, such a system will trigger temperature rise of up t o 5 degrees Celsius and in regions like Africa, ‘this could mean 7 to 8 degrees Celsius of warming’, said TWN. Civil society therefore urged the larger international community to act swiftly to address the issue.
Annex I countries (developed countries), TWN noted, are more determined to ‘ensuring the Protocol’s market mechanisms continue and expand even in the absence of the second commitment period, rewarding them with benefits without corresponding commitments’.
These market mechanisms will basically ensure that Annex I countries conveniently shift the burden of climate change on to developing countries. For example, rather than cut down on their levels of greenhouse emissions and other pollutants, these Annex I countries will seek to hold down the development of less developed parts of the world such as Africa by acquiring forests there.
Data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Swedish Environmental Institute and and UNFCCC records indicate that developing countries are doing far more in curbing climate change than developed countries.
But Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC sounded upbeat about a deal in Durban when she addressed the lobby group, Climate Markets and Investors Association, in London days after the Panama UNFCCC talks. Figueres said negotiators in Durban may go ahead to extend the Protocol without Canada, Japan and Russia.
Figueres may be upbeat about the December talks but the entrenched positions of negotiating parties foretell Durban will not save the earth.
Kwesi W. Obeng is assistant editor, African Agenda. This special issue is jointly produced by Pambazuka News and African Agenda, a publication of Third World Network-Africa.