Monday December 3, 2012
Bleak week at Doha talks
By MARTIN KHOR
At mid-way point of the UN Climate Conference, the fierce North-South battle is making it tough to reach agreement.
A BIG battle is taking place at the UN climate conference in Doha. In the first week of the two-week meeting, the developed countries have made it clear they want to close the working group that has been the main negotiating forum on climate change actions without it having completed its work.
Moreover, the other main group, which negotiates on the Kyoto Protocol made little progress. While developing countries are adamant that the remaining developed-country members in this protocol commit to ambitious emissions cuts, the latter are sticking to very low targets and with uncertainty on how legally binding the KP outcome will be.
Midway through this year’s Conference of Parties of the UN Climate Convention (UNFCCC), the battle lines seem to have hardened, and the outcome on the final day on Dec 7 is very uncertain.
The diplomatic deadlock contrasts with the planet’s urgent need to maintain its climatic balance. The damaging effects of climate change are already being felt when the rise of the average global temperature is 0.8°C (compared to the pre-industrial period), yet the world is on a road to a 4°C rise or more by the end of this century. The scenarios for such a rise are catastrophic.
At the heart of the battles at the UNFCCC are the differences among parties on what is a fair and equitable sharing of the obligations and burdens of mitigation (changing policies to curb emissions), and adaptation (spending money to cope with the effects of climate change).
At the start of the Doha conference, most developing countries made it clear their priority was to entrench the second period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) and to complete the work of the group on long-term cooperative action (LCA).
They laid down what needs to be done under the KP – to get commitments from developed countries to cut emissions deeply (40% or more by 2020 compared to 1990), and to get this started in January 2013 for the next five or eight years.
Developed countries that have left the KP or its second period cannot take advantage of the “flexibility mechanisms”, such as paying other countries to reduce their emissions on their behalf, instead of taking their own domestic action.
The G77 and China, representing all developing countries, stated that the second KP period must be ambitious and begin with effect from Jan 1 next year without any gap between the first and second periods and with the adoption of ratifiable amendments to the KP, to make it legally binding.
It was disappointed by developed countries that claim to be “helping” the process move forward, but are actually retreating from their Kyoto commitments, or declining to take legally binding commitments under the KP’s second period in the guise of freeing themselves for a future agreement we do not yet have.
The Philippines, speaking for 24 developing countries, called on the developed counties in the KP to commit to cutting their emissions by at least 40-50% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 25-40% by 2017.
Currently, the ambition levels pledged are very low.
Also, the other developed countries that are not in the KP or its second period must undertake reduction commitments under the UNFCCC that are comparable.
“Those developed countries outside the Kyoto Protocol or opting out should not get away with low emission cut targets. It is this comparability that would ensure environmental integrity”.
The European Union, which contains most of the developed countries still active in the KP, said it would immediately apply the second commitment period, regardless of the timing of ratification.
However, developing countries also view the EU’s offer of 20% cut by 2020 as too low, especially since many countries are already within reach of this target and the purchase of “offsets” from developing countries reduces further the real effort the Europeans have to make.
Even bigger culprits are the developed countries that either won’t join the KP or its second period, and last week New Zealand announced it would join this group, together with the US, Canada, Japan, and Russia.
In Doha, the developed countries aggressively attacked an attempt by the Chair of the LCA group, Aysar Tayob, to suggest how to carry forward the important unresolved issues of the group before it disbands.
He provided a paper containing suggested texts of decisions on issues including mitigation of developed countries (and comparable emission reduction targets among them); technology transfer (including the effects of intellectual property rights); several issues on finance for developing countries; unilateral trade measures using climate change as a reason.
Many developing countries appreciated the Chair’s paper and wanted it to be the basis for negotiations. But the developed countries, led by the US, were hostile, claiming there was no need for any further work in the LCA, which should close down.
The hostility turned to aggression and rudeness in a session on technology. The developed countries (including the US, Japan and EU) refused to discuss the substance of the Chair’s paper.
Instead, they challenged the procedure of the Chair producing texts when there was no agreement. The US view seemed to be that if there is no agreement on an issue, it should be dropped.
The developing countries on the other hand insisted that an important issue should continue to be discussed if there even if there is no consensus. And they considered technology transfer crucial to their climate actions.
There is also deadlock in finance, an issue which is of central importance, since the developed countries had agreed to finance climate actions in developing countries, and mobilise US$100bil (RM303.9bil) a year by 2020.
Last week, the G77 and China proposed that developed countries make available new funds of US$60bil (RM182.3bil) by 2015 and that most of it should be from public sources. It explained that the US$100bil promise was for 2020. But funds should be guaranteed from 2013 to 2020.
In response, the United States said the G77 and China proposal was not relevant. Though finance is important, all the issues had already been settled and there was no need for any decision to be taken in Doha. This was supported by Canada, Japan, Russia and the EU.
The situation at the end of Week One in Doha is thus bleak. The emission reduction targets of developed countries are low, the KP process is in trouble, yet the developed countries are still blocking proposals from developing countries in the LCA group, while not wanting to commit anything of substance in finance or technology transfer.
The frustration is building up among the developing countries. Unless there is a turnaround in Week Two, which is unlikely, the conference may end with a very weak outcome or even without agreement on crucial areas.