Climate Change

Another bold move by Tuvalu

On Thursday morning, more drama on the floor, this time at the Plenary of the Kyoto Protocol.

Published: Monday 07 December 2009

In the back rooms and in the corridors at Copenhagen, negotiations are continuing in earnest on a raft of technical issues that could be part of an eventual Copenhagen treaty: technology transfer; adaptation funding; accounting rules for emissions from deforestation. Small groups of delegates are preparing draft texts on each of these topics, which will be released publicly later in the week.

In the meantime, just about the only discussions being held in public view are those relating to symbolic or high-level issues...and these almost inevitably lead to one of the million-dollar questions at this COP: what happens to the Kyoto Protocol after 2012?

On one side, developing countries are adamant that the Kyoto Protocol must be maintained and strengthened. As the delegate from Nicaragua reminded everyone today, it remains the only legally-binding instrument that requires emissions cuts from countries that are historically responsible for global warming.

On the other side, developed countries have been using a wide variety of means to kill Kyoto and replace it with a new agreement.

First, a recap of what happened yesterday
Yesterday, in the UNFCCC plenary, five proposals to add new protocols under the UNFCCC were on the agenda. Two, one from Tuvalu and one from Costa Rica, aim to (a) strengthen the Kyoto Protocol with stronger targets and (b) add new legally-binding targets for the US and actions for developing countries. Both are short on details, but the Tuvalu proposal, for instance, sets a goal of limiting temperature rises to 1.5 C, which is more ambitious than any other official texts to date.

But several countries, including India and China, objected to further discussion of the Tuvalu and Costa Rica drafts. In part, it seems this was because of a fear that these discussions would distract from negotiations under the Bali Road Map, which are intended to lead to the same outcomes: stronger targets for Annex I countries and some kind of actions for developing countries. In part, it was because other proposals for new protocols under the UNFCCC, such as from Australia and the US, have the obvious goal of replacing the Kyoto Protocol with something weaker.

(It might also have been because some India and China were caught off guard).

The Chair had yet to propose a way forward from this impasse, when this morning, in the Kyoto Protocol plenary, a very similar scenario starting playing out.

Déjà vu, almost
Article 20 of Kyoto allows for amendments to be discussed at any COP (just as Article 17 under the UNFCCC allows for new protocols to be proposed at any COP).

And, as they had under Article 17 of the UNFCCC, Tuvalu and other developing countries submitted proposals for consideration that would strengthen Kyoto. A proposal from some of the larger G77 countries in fact calls for minimum targets of 40 per cent for all Annex I countries in the next commitment period.

Similarly, Australia and other developed countries have submitted proposals to replace the Kyoto Protocol with much weaker arrangements, such as a pledge-and-review agreement.

Thus, a bit of déjà vu with the question: to discuss these proposals (including options for both strengthening and weakening Kyoto), or not to discuss?

You might think that everyone would have responded exactly as they had yesterday, but just a few moments ago, developing countries universally spoke in favour of setting up further discussions on those proposals which seek to strengthen Kyoto, but not on the others. The EU expressed disagreement.

The Chair of the meeting, Connie Hedegaard, is now consulting with delegates on how to proceed.

Update: after about twenty minutes of discussions, the issue has not been resolved and Ms Hedegaard has suspended the plenary. This means that the plenary sessions of both the Kyoto Protocol and the UNFCCC are suspended, until parties can agree on a way to go forward.

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