Frozen at gateway
Two weeks of intense negotiations at the UN climate talks in Doha concluded within minutes on December 8. Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, president of the 18th Conference of Parties (COP), gavelled through the draft decisions of three negotiating tracks and adopted them. In what seemed a premeditated attempt, every strike of the gavel was accompanied by a deafening applause which ensured dissenting voices did not reach the podium.
Any objection to a draft decision must be raised before the president adopts it, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Al-Attiyah, through several hours of huddles with groups of countries, ensured the dissenting voices were few. Except for the Russian Federation, Al-Attiyah had convinced all countries not to let the talks collapse. It did not matter, of course, whether the outcome was in favour of arresting catastrophic global climate change or not.
COP-18 should have closed on December 7, but till 4 am on December 8, three different draft texts were on the table and the negotiating countries, or Parties, did not see eye to eye on any of them. These texts pertained to the three negotiating tracks, called ad hoc working groups, on Kyoto Protocol, Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA) and Durban Platform (ADP). Over the two weeks since talks began on November 26, countries had put forth their proposals and each group wanted its interests reflected in the draft texts. But this was not possible because interests of developing countries are considerably different and they wanted different outcomes from the talks at Doha.
Through the second week, negotiations went into a tizzy, with negotiators working 20-hour shifts to ensure their countries’ interests were taken care of. Talks seemed set for a collapse because of extremely divergent views. But the COP president changed this in four hours.
Early December 8 morning, Al-Attiyah introduced new draft texts, claiming everyone’s interests had been accommodated. He gave Parties 90 minutes to read the texts, but the break stretched to well over 10 hours. It remains a mystery how he convinced countries not to object before he adopted the decisions. Unconfirmed reports note the COP president and the UNFCCC secretariat met several key parties behind closed doors, convincing them that to open the “package of texts” at the late juncture to make further adjustments would cause utter chaos.
Drama unravelled soon after. The Russian Federation found it “unbelievable that the decisions were passed so unforgivingly”. Not happy with the decision to disallow transfer of surplus carbon credits to the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the Russian negotiator said: “It is difficult to believe that you did not hear the nameplate that I banged (to bring to the president’s attention the country’s wish to intervene before he adopted the decision), which is against the nature of Russian diplomacy.” To this the president replied, “I value the warm relations between my country and the Russian Federation. It was my sense that the decision reflects the will of the party as a whole to resolve Doha.”
Then, the US sprung its card. It made clear that it would not be part of any new global deal that was guided by the principles of UNFCCC. In other words, even though the talks were being held under the Convention, it did not want any future climate regimes to be under the Convention’s principles. Early signs of this had been visible during the wrangling between developed and developing countries on the use of the phrase ‘guided by the principles’ in the draft decision under ADP. Developing countries insisted that it should be explicitly written that ADP would be guided by the principles of UNFCCC and that it would operate on the principles of equity and CBDR, or common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR). But the final text omitted reference to these two ideas. The US and other developed countries even put their foot down at the mention of a passing reference to the June 2012 Rio+20 summit, which endorsed the principles of equity and CBDR in its decision, in the ADP draft text.
Responding to the US’ statement post adoption, India made it equally clear that future negotiations would be difficult if they are not based on the principles of the Convention. “We have heard arguments that equity cannot be the basis of our work. That our work will be anchored in the principles of the Convention was a clear understanding when we agreed to the Durban Platform. The phrase ‘under the Convention’ was coined to give comfort to all parties who did not want an explicit reference to equity and CBDR,” said lead Indian negotiator Mira Mehrishi.
India also made it clear that it was not happy with most parts of the text. “These are serious issues that affect the interests of all developing countries. There is no framework for sectoral measures in the decision. The unilateral measures have been dealt with almost as an afterthought. And, there is a weak reference to technology-related intellectual property rights issues. Most important, there is no concrete commitment on financing,” Mehrishi said.
Reiterating the focus on equity and CBDR in the context of shared vision, India reserved its right to be party to the Doha decisions only if others accepted all the elements and provisions enshrined in the decisions. “The entire package must be treated as a composite one and not violated either in spirit or letter,” Mehrishi warned, setting the tone for the next three years of talks.
See also: Doha: inaction in the face of urgency
Countries at Doha agreed on the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. But the agreement is marred by weak greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitments by developed countries. With crucial developed countries—Japan, New Zealand and Canada—not being part of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, only Europe, Switzerland, Norway and Australia are left to take legally binding commitments. The emission cuts these countries have committed to would amount to 18 per cent reduction by 2020, relative to the 1990 levels, compared to 25-40 per cent required to restrict global temperature rise to 2°C.
Under Long-Term Cooperative Action, even though the negotiating track closed in Doha, there was little progress on critical issues such as finance, technology transfer, adaptation, and loss and damage. There is still no clarity on how the US $100 billon per year will be mobilised by 2020. And, despite a demand by developing countries that a provision of mid-term finance of US $60 billion for the period 2013-2020 be made, the final decision does not reflect any commitment on the part of developed countries.
Under the Durban Platform, the major debate was on the use of the phrase “equity and common but differentiated responsibility” in the draft text. Developing countries wanted these words in the text but at the insistence of the developed world, the adopted text finally carried that the basis of the future deal would be “under the Convention”.
|Ad hoc working group on Kyoto Protocol
|ISSUES ON THE TABLE
|Decision on the length of the second commitment period
||Eight years—from January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2020. But the targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are very weak
|Whether to trade surplus allowances or Assigned Amount Units (AAUs) from the first commitment period to the second commitment period
||Decision not to trade surplus AAUs in the second commitment period
|Decision on whether to allow countries not party to the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol to use carbon offsets from Clean Development Mechanism, or CDM projects towards meeting their emissions reduction commitments
||Countries that are not party to the second commitment period will not be allowed access to certified emissions reduction, or CERs
|Ad hoc working group on Durban Platform (ADP)
|ISSUES ON THE TABLE
|Expand scope of work stream I, on what the post-2020 framework should look like
||ADP decided to hold roundtables and workshops in 2013 to work towards the post-2020 framework
|Expand scope of work stream II, on how to enhance ambition in the pre-2020 period
||Decision to “identify and explore in 2013 options for a range of actions that can close the pre-2020 ambition gap with a view to identifying its plan of work in 2014” and hold roundtables and workshops in 2013 and produce a technical paper compiling information on mitigation benefits in 2012
|Ad hoc working group on Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA)
|ISSUES ON THE TABLE
||No decision on how the goal of US $100 billion per year by 2020 will be achieved. A work programme extended to 2013 end to discuss how the funds will be mobilised
||Diluted mention of Intellectual Property Rights. Decision states that the Technology Executive Committee should “initiate the exploration of issues relating to enabling environments and barriers…”
||A meagre mention that the bodies “under the Convention will continue their work to enhance action on adaptation…”
|Loss and damage
||Decision on establishing “institutional arrangements such as institutional mechanism…to address loss and damage...”
|Shared vision, including issues such as peaking year for developed and developing countries
||Parties are to only attain a global peaking of emissions at the earliest; the timeframe for peaking will be longer in developing countries
|Cooperative sectoral approaches, including emissions under aviation and maritime sectors
||Stronger text on sectoral approaches deleted in the final version of the draft text. The only caution in the draft text is that such measures “should not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination...”
|REDD (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries)
||No decision. The issue will be taken up for discussion under the subsidiary body
See also: Doha: inaction in the face of urgency
Developed countries tried to push the issue of agriculture to centrestage, which developing countries resisted successfully. Developed countries wanted the agriculture sector to be considered for emission reduction, but developing countries made it clear that agriculture was out-of-bounds for mitigation and that any discussion on agriculture could happen only under adaptation. Methane, which is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, is emitted from rice cultivation. According to India, tackling methane emission would have several social and economic constraints, and it would rather do this nationally than go for international intervention.
In addition, the G77 and China group are of the view that counting emissions from farmland could pave the way to opening the sector to cheap emissions reduction credits, thereby exposing them to the vagaries of the carbon market.
A proposal by the EU and Costa Rica, however, stated that agriculture should be considered for mitigation and a decision on that must be taken in Doha. The countries found support in the least developed countries’ (LDC) group, which stressed that studies need to be carried out to ascertain the role of agriculture in global warming. Gambia, the chair of the LDC group, went back on the agreed position of G77 and China of keeping agriculture outside the scope of mitigation. They suggested that the principle of common but differentiated responsibility be removed from the Convention’s text for Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), the UNFCCC body discussing agriculture.
Since consensus could not be reached, the issue has been pushed to the next SBSTA meeting in Bonn.
Chimera called mitigation
Deep emissions reduction by developed countries not a priority
Science got a short shrift in the climate change negotiations at Doha. It warns of catastrophic changes if earth-warming gasses are not curtailed, but rich countries care little about that.
Five years after the 13th Conference of Parties (COP-13) in Bali laid the roadmap for the world to reduce atmospheric carbon emissions, it has not become a priority. Developed countries must make huge cuts in their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions before 2020 to avoid dangerous rise in temperature, say scientists. But on the final night of the Doha conference it was clear that between 2013 and 2020 only the EU, Switzerland, Norway and Australia were ready to take legally binding emission cuts under the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Together, they will cut emissions by 18 per cent below the 1990 levels, much less than the requirement. The thin silver lining is the provision, made on the insistence of developing countries, that these countries could ramp up their emission reductions by 2014.
Science seeks ambition
Preceding the Bali summit was the release of Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It called for urgent GHG mitigation before it caused irrevocable and apocalyptic damage. AR4 stated the planet’s capacity to accommodate CO2 was reducing drastically. Therefore, the mean global temperature rise must be curtailed to below 2°C compared to the pre-industrial level (1850). By 2005, it noted, temperature had increased by 0.74°C and atmospheric concentration of CO2 had reached 379 parts per million (ppm). In 2011, it was 397 ppm. To curb this, CO2 emissions must be reigned in at 450 ppm. For this, developed nations must reduce their emissions 25-40 per cent below the 1990 level by 2020.
AR4 also projected two scenarios: if developed countries cut emissions between 10 and 30 per cent, GHG concentration would reach about 550 ppm. Reduction of up to 25 per cent could increase GHG concentration to 650 ppm. It said global emissions must peak in 10-15 years and then reduce to below half the 2000 level by 2050.
The emissions reduction targets were placed on the table at the conference in Bali. But this was not the only reason COP-13 was important. It also brought climate change agonist, the US, into the parleys through a negotiating track called Long-Term Cooperative Actions. It set in motion a new global deal, the Bali Action Plan, which was to enforce targets for the developed countries once the Kyoto Protocol expired in 2012. The Plan set “measurable, reportable and verifiable nationally appropriate mitigation commitments or actions” for developed countries. These included quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives, which ensured “comparability of efforts among them” and took into account “differences in their national circumstances”. The Plan also set domestic mitigation actions for developing countries through carefully crafted nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) in context of sustainable development. NAMAs were to be supported by technology, financing and capacity-building. The deal was to be sealed two years later in Copenhagen in 2009.
Tables turned at COP-15, attended by over 120 heads of state. No matter how big or small an encroacher a country was of atmospheric carbon space, it was put in the same bracket of polluters. Countries at the bottom of the emissions pyramid were asked to make commitments under pledge and review system. Developed countries said it would apply to them, too. This removed the distinction between developed and developing countries. This also allowed the rich countries to abdicate their responsibility of historical emissions.
Emissions have only grown
In Copenhagen, a handful of countries, including the US, EU, along with Brazil, South Africa, India and China, reached an accord that was thrust upon the rest of the world. Had countries like Bolivia, Venezuela and Tuvalu not objected, the Copenhagen Accord may have been adopted. It was taken note of only in the final plenary.
Developed countries, especially the US and Canada, also tweaked the base year and said they will reduce emissions by 17 per cent over 2005. This meant only about 4 per cent reduction over the agreed 1990 levels. Following this, 86 countries, of which 42 were developed, voluntarily pledged to reduce emissions. At COP-16 held in Cancun in 2010, these pledges were recognised and developed countries were to measure, verify and report their emissions. There was no penalty if they failed.
But these pledges cannot keep average global warming below 2°C. United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP’S) Emissions Gap Report (2010) states, “The range of 2020 emission levels from the Copenhagen Accord pledges is consistent with pathways that lead to likely temperature increases of 2.5°C to 5°C up to the end of the 21st century.” Climate Action Tracker says the earth could be warmer by 2.6°C to 4.0°C while Climate Interactive reports a range between 3.5°C and 4.5°C.
With the voluntary pledges in place, developed countries decided to junk legally binding emission cuts under the Kyoto Protocol. A year later, at COP-17 in Durban, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Russia withdrew from the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. These countries along with EU and Australia emitted about 26 per cent of CO2. With countries gone, less than 15 per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions would be addressed in phase two of Kyoto Protocol.
High emissions, high probability
It is now accepted that keeping global temperature below 2°C will lead to moderate changes in global environment. Increase of even a decimal point beyond this will make conditions harsher. Scientists believe from the current increase in temperature of about 0.8°C the figure is likely to double given the amount of CO2 already present in the atmosphere. But at present, scientists can only give probability scenarios. In a paper published in Nature in 2009, Malte Meinshausen, along with other researchers, says if global carbon emissions are limited to 750 gigatonnes (Gt) between 2000 and 2050, there is 33 per cent probability of temperature rising above 2°C. If these emissions reach 1,440 Gt, the risk increases to 50 per cent.
Between 2000 and 2006, 234 Gt CO2 was emitted at a rate of 36.3 Gt per year, Meinshausen’s paper reports. At this rate, the world will exhaust its emission budget by 2024, 2027 or 2039 depending on the probability accepted for exceeding 2°C.
UNEP studies say by 2020 the world must limit total GHG to 44 Gt per year to stay within the 2°C limit. But despite the voluntary and legal pledges under the Cancun Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol, emissions will still be between 49 Gt and 56 Gt. If this gap is not bridged, the world will be on a trajectory of temperature increase of more than 3.5°C, or even 5°C by 2100 (see ‘Emissions gap’).
It is not the gap alone that worries scientists. Loopholes in accounting methodology raise doubts that the gap could be much wider, through double accounting by developed countries. The estimated total emissions reduction pledges under the Cancun Agreement of developed countries will lead to cumulative emissions reduction of about 18 Gt between 2013 and 2020. But if these countries manage to get away, additional 14.5-27.2 Gt carbon could be emitted, and rich countries may increase their emissions by about 10 Gt between 2013 and 2020. Surplus emission credits, also known as Assigned Amount Units (AAUs), have the maximum potential to be misused. Countries of the Eastern Block during 1990 to 1997 went into recession and hence reduced their emissions more than what they had to under the Kyoto Protocol. The extra tonnes of CO2 that were kept from releasing into the atmosphere can be sold as carbon credits. These surplus AAUs are to the tune of 9 to 13 GT.
In Doha, a part of this problem was resolved as the EU, along with Norway, Switzerland and Australia, decided not to use AAUs as an offsetting mechanism. Poland was the only EU member, which wanted AAUs to remain tradable. In the end, a compromise was reached and Poland was allowed to trade its AAUs. But all the parties to the second phase of Kyoto Protocol made statements that they will not use AAUs for future reduction.
Land Use Land Use Change and Forestry, Clean Development Mechanism, Aviation and Maritime Emissions are other avenues where emission trading fraud can take place (see ‘Loopholes’).
It was clear in Doha that developed countries are willing to do far less than developing countries. Less than 15 per cent of the emissions will be covered under the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period. Targets set in this second commitment period match the ones pledged in Cancun Agreement. A report from Stockholm Environment Institute in 2011 titled “Comparison of Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 pledges under the Cancun Agreements” reveals total emissions reduction of developing countries will be greater than the ones pledged by the developed countries (see ‘facts in figures’).
Five years after Bali, the world has not gained much. The ambitious emissions reduction agreement is nowhere to be seen. Instead, most big polluting countries sit pretty without having to do much. If at all a new deal is struck, it will be after 2020.
Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) was an easy way out for developed countries to reduce their emissions. For every tonne of avoided CO2 emission in a developing country, a certified emission reduction (CER) could be issued. This could be sold to the developed world. Annex 1 countries of the Kyoto Protocol could use these CERs to meet their emission reduction targets.
But despite the billionth CER issued in September 2012, the future of this system looks dodgy. Lack of ambitious emissions reduction targets by developed countries means less demand for CERs. CER prices reached a historic low in December. It was trading at 46 Euro cents at the ICE Futures Europe exchange in London, reports Bloomberg.
In 2006, CERs were trading at close to 30 Euros. Generation of numerous fake CERs from questionable industrial projects, such as coal-based power plants, has added to the depression in prices.
CDM mechanism has no way to guarantee avoidance of double accounting. The developing country, where the CDM projects are installed, and the developed country, which buys these credits, could both add these avoided emissions into their own mitigation targets. The additionality clause in the CDM mechanism demands that the project can qualify only if it cannot be set up under a “business as usual” scenario.
By this the project will have to prove that the policy of the country where the project has been set up does promote such projects and without finance generated through CERs the project will not be able to break even. But the additionality clause is often ignored. Qualification of coal-powered plants, which are not additional, has not only led to dirty CERs being generated but has also hindered developing countries from adopting a low-carbon trajectory.
See also: Doha: inaction in the face of urgency
Show me the money
Fast-start commitments not delivered, Green Climate Fund an empty shell and no money between 2013 and 2020
The developed world made two pledges on finance during the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009. It committed to mobilise US $100 billion a year up to 2020 and US $30 billion of “new and additional” fast-start finance, with funding balanced between mitigation and adaptation, which they would make available between 2010 and 2012. The idea was to help developing countries shift to a low carbon economy and to deal with the impacts of climate change.
At the Cancun climate talks in 2010, developed countries reaffirmed their pledges. But there is no money on the table as far as the US $100 billion, put under Green Climate Fund, is concerned and little clarity on how it will be mobilised. In Doha, developed countries claimed they gave US $33 billion under fast-start finance, but it is not known whether the funds are new and additional to the official development assistance (ODA) developed countries already give to developing countries for sectors such as health and education.
A study by Oxfam estimates only 33 per cent of these funds are new. The rest are money already pledged before the Copenhagen conference, or from plans and budget lines already adopted. “Only 24 per cent can be considered additional to the long-standing promise to provide 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income as ODA,” the report states.
Another study, by the International Institute on Environment and Development (IIED) in the UK, found the US, EU and Iceland had committed half or less than half of their share. “Only US $23.6 billion has been committed and one-fifth of climate finance supports adaptation in developing countries in spite of promises to balance it with mitigation funding,” the report states. Less than half the committed funds are grants and only 2 per cent are flowing through the UN. Funds under fast-start finance are either grants or loans. The other problem is developed countries’ preference to bypass the multilateral process and spend revenue through bilateral channels. This leaves little space for developing countries to have a greater say over the use of resources.
“The US was able to put on the table $7.5 billion (under fast-start finance),” said Jonathan Pershing, deputy chief climate negotiator of the US, at a gathering of non-profits in Doha. “This is not what people want. They want 700 billion dollars”. He said the US should be appreciated, and not criticised, for meeting its commitments. The IIED report states the US has committed less than two-thirds of the money it should, “based on its role as a climate polluter and the size of its economy”.
There also exists a glaring gap between 2013 and 2020. In Doha, developing countries demanded US $60 billion to be raised by 2015. The final decision adopted does not reflect the demand.
Finance remains the key topic of debate and is expected to gather more steam as negotiations reach Warsaw in Poland next year.
Stuck in quicksand since Cancun, technology-related issues make no headway
Except for the creation of a technology executive committee at Cancun, there has been little movement on technology transfer and intellectual property rights (IPR) related to environmentally sound technologies (ESTs). While developing countries say the current IPR regime does not match the need to transfer technologies, countries such as the US want developing countries to create “an enabling atmosphere to attract private funds for ESTs”. Thus, while developing countries want innovative IPR- sharing arrangements to develop ESTs, or process for compulsory licensing for patented ESTs, the US wants IPR enforcement and protection and promotion of competitive and open markets for ESTs. This has been the nub of the debate.
At the recently concluded talks in Doha, developed countries refused to entertain any exclusive proposal by developing countries on technology transfer. In fact, under the Ad hoc working group on Long-term Cooperative Action, the draft text on technology was heavily diluted in the final decision adopted. It merely states that technology executive committee should “initiate exploration of issues relating to enabling environments and barriers”, leaving scope for further disagreements in future climate talks.
See also: Doha: inaction in the face of urgency
Adaptation: from Bali to Doha
Platitudes, promises and politics
Countries must address enhanced action on adaptation: this is what the Bali Action Plan, signed at COP-13, had stated in 2007. Five years later, action on adaptation has been anything but enhanced.
Reaffirming that adaptation was a challenge, COP-18 listed the progress made so far. It included “approval of the three-year work plan of the Adaptation Committee, implementation of the work programme on loss and damage,” and setting up of processes to formulate and implement national adaptation plans. A close look reveals the key questions that had dogged the world in 2007 remain unanswered—“whose responsibility is it?” and “who pays?”
COP-13 had witnessed vociferous demands for a new financial architecture to fund adaptation, which was predictable, stable and adequate. China proposed a programme with new financial resources and transfer of technology. There were sticking points though: developed countries did not like the “legally binding” nature of the proposals, while for developing countries, international monitoring and review were anathema. The Adaptation Fund was operationalised under the Kyoto Protocol at COP-14 in Poznan, Poland. But the Fund could never accumulate enough to meet the adaptation needs of developing countries. In 2009 came the Copenhagen Accord, which announced the Green Climate Fund. Developed countries committed to provide resources up to US $30 billion for adaptation and mitigation from 2010 to 2012. They also committed to mobilise US $100 billion per year by 2020 for mitigation.
But the Accord was silent on some basic questions: who will contribute, and how much? Will the money come from public or private source? Who will get the funds and on what basis? What was far more dangerous was the effort to divide the developing world—between what it called the “emerging economies” (countries which did not need climate funds) and the “vulnerable nations” (those impacted by changing climate).
The Climate Adaptation Framework and an Adaptation Committee, created in 2010 at Cancun, Mexico, set out priority areas for action, but contentious questions such as how adaptation funds will be allocated, remained unresolved. The Durban Platform that followed did not find it worthwhile to spend time on adaptation or its funding.
Doha Gateway, as the outcome of COP-18 is being referred to, acknowledges that adaptation must be addressed with the same priority as mitigation. It has requested “the Adaptation Committee to consider the establishment of an annual adaptation forum, to be held in conjunction with the sessions of the Conference of the Parties, to maintain a high profile for adaptation under the Convention, to raise awareness and ambition with regard to adaptation actions and to facilitate enhanced coherence of adaptation actions”. But with no decision taken on the crucial funding yet, adaptation remains a proverbial blind alley in this maze of global climate negotiations.
LOSS & DAMAGE
After much rancour, developing countries got the developed world to agree on putting “institutional arrangements” in place for loss and damage. Developed countries, especially the US, EU and Australia strongly opposed establishment of a functional and internationally applicable mechanism. Debates got ugly as the Alliance of Small Island States and Least Developed Countries joined G77 and China in their demand for an international mechanism. The civil society, too, lent its voice to support developing nations.
The final decision adopted at Doha states that the institutional arrangements would be established at the 19th Conference of Parties, to be held in Warsaw, Poland, in 2013. While negotiations on how the mechanism will translate on the ground are not expected to be smooth, developing countries consider Doha as a win on loss and damage because the decision was formally adopted after many years of wrangling.
See also: Doha: inaction in the face of urgency
Talk less, act more
Will action be taken to reduce emissions as much as is required?
The roadmap for future climate negotiations is clear: in 2013 talks move to Warsaw in Poland, then to either Venezuela or Peru and in 2015 to Paris for a grand finale of the Durban Platform agreement. What is not clear is whether the world will be able to get around to take action to cut emissions at the scale and pace demanded by science. There is no reason to believe as yet that this will happen. In fact, there is every reason to believe that despite the growing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, the world is even more addicted to life on carbon dioxide.
High on rhetoric
The concern about a potentially warmer planet began in mid-1980s when two separate scientific conferences, in Bellagio in 1987 and then in Toronto in 1988, presented evidence of the impact of anthropogenic carbon dioxide on climate. In August 1990, the first assessment report of the newly created Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released. This report warned the world that global temperatures would increase by 1°C above the 1990 values by 2005, if urgent action to control emissions was not taken. In November that year, the world climate conference met and agreed to negotiate a treaty. In February 1991, negotiations began and by June 1992, just over a year later, Framework Convention on Climate Change was ready for signature at the Rio conference.
But even in 1992, the US had made its opposition to any agreement to cut emission clear. Emission reduction targets were dispensed with primarily because the US said it would not agree to it. The European Union’s (EU’s) plans for carbon tax were scuttled. The US also stridently opposed, including in the Convention, the proposal to include historical responsibilities for the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The clear legal concept of polluter pays was junked in favour of a diluted principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”. Then US-led countries insisted they were taking on differentiated responsibilities, not because they were responsible for climate change but because they had the capability to act. All in all, the action on climate change was subverted even before it got going.
This lack of intent to do something meaningful has grown stronger in the past 20 years. Actions taken post 1992 have been weaker and much below expectations.
In 1992, when the Convention was being discussed, it was agreed that the industrialised world needed to cut emissions to 20 per cent below the 1990 levels for temperature increase to remain below 1° C. This was considered the “safe” limit. In Berlin in 1995, when the world agreed to begin negotiations on a protocol for emission reduction, the targets were the same—20 per cent reduction below the 1990 levels. Eventually, when this protocol was signed in 1997 in Kyoto, the target had been annihilated to roughly 6 per cent below the 1990 levels, that too with so many loopholes that it meant little but business as usual. All this while, the US opposition has become shrill. It rejected the Kyoto Protocol and made the engagement of China and India its starting and ending point for negotiations. But even after China and India bowed to the pressure and agreed to announce targets for reduction, the US will has been wanting. Its current target translates to a mere 3 per cent reduction over the 1990 levels by 2020, which can at best be considered a joke on the planet.
In Bali 2007, efforts for hard action were resurrected—the Kyoto Protocol was coming to an end and new targets had to be set. The draft Bali agreement said, “Annex 1 countries (the already industrialised countries) as a group would reduce emissions in the range of 25-40 per cent below the 1990 levels by 2020 and that global emissions of greenhouse gases would need to peak in the next 10-15 years and be reduced to very low levels, well below half of the levels in 2000 by 2050.”
The post-Bali agreement was to leave out the numbers; to set up the working group on the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period to agree that the US would cut comparable numbers; and that China and India and others would agree to take on domestic actions that could be measured, verified and funded. All this came to a close in Doha when it was agreed to do nothing. All in all, a miserable track record in climate change despite high rhetoric and drama.
Action delinked from science
This is when science has become more certain. The initial shove came with IPCC’S first assessment report; but even then there were huge challenges to interpret and extrapolate future trends. In 2007, IPCC’s fourth assessment report was taken with the same pinches of salt. It was the Nobel Peace Prize that catapulted the science of climate change into public notice. This, along with co-prize winner Al Gore’s film Inconvenient Truth. It was also in 2009, after the much-hyped Copenhagen conference, that the orchestrated move to belittle and discredit climate science began.
But since then, each year the world has seen the future predictions of science come true. Each year, the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events have grown as has economic cost of recovery and adaptation. By the time climate negotiators arrived in Doha, the island nation of the Philippines had been pulverised by 17 typhoons and Bopha had left over 700 dead. The same week, US President Barack Obama asked Congress for $60 billion to pay for damages post-tropical storm Sandy even as his negotiators at Doha turned down any request for financial assistance to pay for mitigation or adaptation under climate.
So, science is more certain, action is even more uncertain. The question is where does the world go from here?
Different but differentiation remains
There is also no doubt that the world of 1992 is distinctly different from 2012. China in 1990, with over a quarter of the world’s population, was responsible for some 10 per cent of annual emissions; by 2010 it contributed some 27 per cent annually. China’s per capita is also moving towards European levels. It is also an economic powerhouse and serious competitor for the old power wealth and wellbeing.
Interestingly, it was also in 1992 when the world agreed on the new global trade pact, the opening up of economies to free trade as changed equations completely. But the peculiar nature of carbon dioxide and gases that fill the atmospheric space converts science into politics. Carbon dioxide has a long life in the atmosphere and its impact on climate is because of the “stock” of gases, once emitted but still present. In this way, China in cumulative terms still accounts for 11 per cent of the emissions, from 1950 onwards.
Similarly, India now adds 6 per cent to the annual global emissions, but is only responsible for 3 per cent of the stock. As a whole, rich countries, with less than a quarter of the world’s population, are responsible for some 70 per cent of this historical burden. The same stock is responsible for an average global temperature rise of 0.8°C and another 0.8°C, which is already in the works.
So, now the power equations really get difficult: the annex 1 nations, differentiated for being the cause of the problem, have not reduced emissions; not made space for the emerging world to grow. But the world has run out of space and time. The next round of negotiations will be even more difficult.
Actions, game-changer events and coalitions
The game changer in climate change negotiations is the extreme weather events that are beginning to be seen across the globe. Climate change is a great equaliser—the rich and poor are commonly affected. It is also true that climate change requires cooperation because if the rich emitted in the past, the poor will emit in future. There is still hope that the world will decide to take action and decide that it is better to develop a fair and equitable regime so that all participate.
But for this to happen there are other realities that need to sink in. First, there is the question of coalitions. Current coalitions are based on traditional groupings and/or on self-interest. Therefore, G77 and China, remains the group that speaks in one voice but it is hugely diverse in terms of its membership. Qatar, the host of the COP, has the highest per capita emissions in the world, but is member of G-77 and China. Then to counter the group of BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), all big polluters of the developing world, we have the grouping of “vulnerable countries” also of the developing world. Now the poor are fighting the poor, as each country wants a piece of the cake, either as a “polluter” or as a “beggar”. It is time this grouping dissolved into something much more cohesive in terms of interests and ambitions.
But this will never happen till the world remains locked into denial of the basic differentiation between old polluters and new ones and the need to share common atmospheric space. In the current scenario, large and traditional coalitions are the protection against harm. Global distrust is on the rise. It is crippling action and ambition. Let us be clear, without overcoming distrust, nothing can move, whatever the provocation of science and weather.