Race to kill kyoto protocol

As Copenhagen nears, Obamas America sees new hope Yes, we can...dump climate multilateralism. In Bangkok, most developed countries joined the charge. Their methods jettison equity, peddle domestic actions and dangle carrots to break developing country unity. Some, like India, show signs of wavering. Kushal Pal Singh Yadav tracks negotiations in Bangkok

By Kushal Pal Singh Yadav
Published: Sunday 15 November 2009

Race to kill kyoto protocol

-- (Credit: Divya)An atmosphere of gloom prevailed in the galleries of the United Nations Conference Centre in Bangkok on October 9, 2008. It was the last day of talks on climate change, and there was near-unanimity that the Kyoto Protocol was going to die. Delegates from developing countries were an angry lot. Those from developed countries did not seem to care much.

The penultimate meeting, just a few negotiating days before the big one at Danish capital Copenhagen in December, had been chosen to sound the death knell for the internationally binding agreement on emission reductions (see box Genesis of Kyoto). Chinese chief negotiator Yu Qingtai put it succinctly Developed country partners are trying to invent something totally new two months before Copenhagen and asking everybody else to come along. Thats not the way to conduct negotiations.

The first nail in the coffin was driven in by the US, the biggest polluter that first refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and is now dragging its feet on committing to a healthy cut in emissions. US inaction, cried delegations of developing countries, is inciting other developed countries to dump the protocol. The developed countries need to rise to the challenge rather than race to the bottom with the US, said Lumumba Stanislaus-Kaw Di Aping, head of Sudanese delegation and chair of G77 plus China. But isnt the Barack Obama administration more progressive about climate change? Obama has only offered some of the most progressive utterances, Lumumba shot back.

In the last week of talks in Bangkok developed countries (referred to as Annex I under the protocol) developed cold feet; they were not ready to commit to emission reduction targets for the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol. The first phase ends in 2012. The discussion came to a standstill.

In addition to the US, the European Union (EU), which had for long been claiming the moral high ground, turned out to be the villain. EU had proposed a reduction target of 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. This could go up to 30 per cent if an ambitious deal were signed in Copenhagen. EU had been banking on the US passing its climate change bill before the Copenhagen meet (see Kerry-Boxer doesnt pack a punch on P 28). That would have meant some sort of legal commitment from the US to reduce its emissions. But during the Bangkok meet it became clear that the US climate legislation would not be ready in time for Copenhagen.

So EU was faced with a situation where it would have committed to a reduction target without any commitment from the US.

Seeing that the biggest polluter might not come to Copenhagen with any reduction target, most developed countries began abandoning the Kyoto process. Japan, the other major party under Kyoto, has also expressed reservations about continuing under a Kyoto regime.

Why we need Kyoto
The negotiations on climate change take place under two ad hoc working groups.

Down to Earth
The deadlock in the group discussing the reduction targets for Annex I countries had repercussions on the group debating long-term emission cuts by all nations and implementation of the Bali Action Plan, a roadmap to conclude a deal at Copenhagen. After failed negotiations in the first group, developing countries did not see any merit in continuing with negotiations in the second group. The ground was prepared for EU to make a pitch for a new unified treaty.

There is now a concerted effort to somehow put the Kyoto Protocol aside and to say we need a new instrument in which the commitments of both those that are party to the protocol and those that are not party to the protocol could be reflected, said Shyam Saran, Indian prime ministers special envoy on climate change.

But the new treaty is also meant to reflect the commitments of developing countries, or at least the major developing countries. It is a call to throw out of the window the differentiation of responsibility for climate change. Emissions by the developed countries over the past decades are today haunting the developing countries. Developed nations are responsible, developing countries are not. This differentiation is at the heart of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (unfccc) and climate negotiations. Under Kyoto, developing countries are allowed to increase emissions so that they can develop.

EU reaffirmed its faith in the Kyoto process at press conferences, but said it was looking at one legal treaty that would include the Kyoto system, albeit in bits and pieces.

Developing countries are sceptical. We do not accept the argument that you can save a legal instrument by tearing it to pieces and keeping the parts that you believe are good, Chinese negotiator Yu retorted. Its a basic contradiction; you kill a document so that you can save it.

We are being told that a new and single instrument is essential if we want an agreement at Copenhagen. It does not need a great deal of imagination to see what this could lead to, Saran said in the closing plenary in Bangkok. The proposals, far from enhancing climate change actions, will end up diluting the commitments of Annex I countries, unilaterally imposing new commitments and burdens on developing countries, he added.

Developing countries, more specifically what are termed emerging economies, the likes of India and China, are under pressure from developed countries to commit to emission-reduction targets. The US and EU have been bullying them to abandon the equity principlethat every individual has an equal share of atmospheric spaceand to focus on actual emissions.

We want to achieve the substantive goals of Kyoto, but we can do this only if we widen the participation. We are convinced that we need to bring into a single legal instrument all that we have done in Kyoto but make it applicable to a much wider participationthe US on the one hand and the emerging developing countries who have become large emitters on the other hand, Jonathan Pershing, the chief US negotiator, said in Bangkok.

Down to Earth Adopting the same tenor, EU advocated dumping the per capita emissions approach based on the equity principle. Speaking on behalf of the developing nations, Yu tore into their web of arguments. Emission aggregates dont stand alone in abstract. Behind a countrys emissions are human beings. Each of them is entitled to a fair share of the common atmospheric space in the world, he said. I am sure everyone believes all are born equal. As a Chinese, I dont think anyone can persuade me to believe that being born a Chinese would give me less entitlement compared to what someone born in a developed country would get. That is politically and morally incorrect.

In the midst of relentless pressure and lobbying it seems one person blinked.
Down to Earth
Just to bring the US into the fold does not mean that an instrument with more than a 100 parties is set aside. We are being told that a new, single instrument is essential for an agreement at Copenhagen. We are not engaged in negotiating a new climate change treaty.
Indian delegation headM
Down to Earth
What they are trying to do during the past week or so is a concerted effort to put an end to Kyoto protocol and everything that protocol represents. It's a basic contradiction; you kill a document so that you can save it. It's just incomprehensible.
Chinese delegation head
Down to Earth
Attempts to replace the protocol will be counterproductive. Developed nations need to rise to the challenge, not race to the bottom with the US.
Sudanese Ambassador, G-77 + China Chair
Down to Earth
When you have big countries not acting, then countries of a similar status feel 'we don't have to do anything too'. So rather than being aspirational everyone wants to do nothing. And the end outcome we are more threatened, more vulnerable and our future more insecure.
Scientific advisor to Grenada, Chair of AOSIS
Sadly for India, it was its environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

India fumbles
Ramesh, in a confidential note to the prime minister, suggested a drastic shift in Indias stance in climate negotiations. Key suggestions included making compromises to bring the US on board an international agreement, putting in place domestic legislation for emission reduction, aligning more with the G20 than G77 and China, delinking mitigation actions from financing and technology transfer from Annex I countries, and a trade-off on climate negotiations in favour of securing a UN Security Council seat.

This was not the first time Ramesh expressed views widely divergent from Indias position. During his earlier visit to the US, he was quoted as saying that India would be open to verification of all its actions on mitigating climate change. Indias official position is that only the actions enabled by multilateral financing will be open for international verification. In fact, India has always opposed any kind of scrutiny of its domestic actions. In Bangkok this very issue led to an argument between an Indian negotiator and Pershing.

Following a backlash from all quarters on his note, Ramesh was forced to issue a clarification that India will never agree to eliminate the distinction between developed and developing countries. I have never at any stage considered or advocated abandoning the fundamental tenets of the Kyoto Protocol, the minister clarified.

But by suggesting that India might pass a greenhouse gas mitigation law, Ramesh seems to have walked into the US trap. The US has for long been advocating that instead of a multilateral, internationally binding treaty, each country pass its own mitigation law. In Bangkok, Pershing clearly stated that the US favoured every country commits at home and takes national actions which can then be enshrined in an international treaty.

Such an approach will destroy Kyoto. Climate change is not a domestic problem because CO2 emissions do not know national boundaries. A global problem requires a global response. The US has been advocating that every country does what it can, and not what science demands of it. This approach will kill the multilateral process.

This will also mean delinking mitigation actions from financing and technology transfer, and that will be not be affordable for developing countries. India is, in any case, doing whatever it can to address climate change. In fact, it is doing far more than it is required to, more than the US and many other developed countries. But high-end technology options come at a cost. Under the Bali Action Plan, it was agreed by all parties that the developed countries would pay full, incremental costs for adaptation and mitigation actions in developing countries. They have to pay for their historical responsibility.

Linking a geopolitical issue like a Security Council seat to a soft stand at climate negotiations is not a good idea. By moving away from developing countries group (G77 and China), India will get isolated. There is no way it can then get a Security Council seat. G77 plus China has been a major force in negotiations, thwarting developed countries attempts at diluting Kyoto processes.

Rameshs eagerness to bring the US into the mainstream has led him to suggest measures that would compromise the very basis of negotiations, the unfccc and the Kyoto Protocol. Ramesh maintains that India supports any means to bring the US into the mainstream, without diluting the basic Annex I and non-Annex I distinction. But he is again faltering. This time by supporting the Australian proposal put forward earlier this year. The proposal creates a kind of schedule where all countries have commitments of similar nature, though the level of effort may differ. It is similar to the US approach of blurring the distinction between developed and developing countries. In Bangkok, the US asked for a single deal that puts similar commitments on all countries.

The Australian proposal suggests replacing the Kyoto Protocol with a series of national "schedules", in which countries record climate action plans and agree to be legally bound by what they themselves suggest.

For the industrialized world, the proposal has an intoxicating allure. It abandons the principal tenet of the Kyoto architecture that there is a fundamental difference between developed and developing countries. Instead it applies the framework of "Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions and Commitments" to everyone. It also opens other core elements of Kyoto, like targets, to renegotiation.

For instance, a discussion draft Australia submitted to the unfccc in May offered the following clarification "The objective of this Agreement is to achieve an environmentally sound response to climate change...through unified long-term action that sets the world on a path to peak global emissions by [X] and then reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by [X] per cent by [X] on [X] levels..."

Down to Earth
Australia proposes that all countries decide their own targets. This creates ample scope for horse-trading
Speaking before the New York University School of Law in September, Australias climate minister Penny Wong said, In putting Australias proposal forward we are seeking once again to help find common ground where it has thus far eluded us. Later in the speech she neatly packed the premise of the Australian proposal in feel-good jargon The design (of an agreement) itself can influence the level of ambition of the agreement because the design will influence the level of confidence the parties have.

Subversion proposal
Translated into simple English it means countries will sign an agreement in earnest only if it is flexible enough not to impose commitments they dont like. This matters because an agreement will be durable only if countries sign earnestly. In turn, confidence in the enduring cachet of an agreement alone will bring countries to the negotiating table willing to make concessions. So the Australian logic is if we want countries to agree to do more, we have to let them do less.

In the run-up to Copenhagen, delegates should understand the perversity and politics of this logic. They must closely scrutinize three issues. First, that the Australian proposal jettisons the principle of historical responsibility. The May discussion draft does not even contain the word historical. It also sterilizes the principle of common but differentiated responsibility by extending it to an absurd limit every country is unique, so we must reject legally binding distinctions like Annex I and Non-Annex I countries. Although the proposal does not say countries like India, China or Brazil should take on targets, it also forbears to say they should not.

Second, the proposal suggests building an international agreement by collating national proposals. The May draft states, Countries would put forward draft national schedules as part of the negotiation process. This would provide an opportunity for transparent assessment of the comparability of effort and comment on the draft schedules.

The idea that science should determine the global level of effort, and principles of equity and responsibility should determine their distribution, is missing. Instead, followingor perhaps leadingthe US example, domestic laws are allowed to set the global agenda.

Third, the very notion that without any guiding principles of equity or fairness, a free-for-all negotiation among 200 countries will yield fair results, beggars belief. Rameshs suggestion to the prime minister that India could obtain a Security Council seat by softening its climate position hints at the kind of horse-trading that could ensue.

Ever sanguine, Wong offered a salve in her speech For developing countries, taking on international mitigation obligations for the first time is a big deal, but the flexibilities in schedules are designed to give them greater comfort. If developing is replaced by developed, the statement becomes insightful, much like the Australian ministers closing remark Naturally, even the perfect design can only take us so far. The level of ambition (of the next agreement) will ultimately be determined by the political will of the parties.

Prospects of getting an equitable and ambitious deal at Copenhagen are dimming by the day. It is now almost certain that the US will not be able to pass its climate bill in time for Copenhagen. American chief negotiator Todd Stern has said he would not go beyond what the US Congress is willing to endorse. As it did with Kyoto, the US is all set to let the world down a second time.

With inputs from Jaisel Vadgama

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