Road to Copenhagen

Published : Dec 18, 2009 00:00 IST



THE last leg of the climate change talks held in Barcelona, Spain, on November 2-6 in the run-up to the all-important 15th Conference of the Parties (COP-15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen in December did not result in any dramatic development that could break the impasse in the negotiations, which has been in evidence since the June meeting in Bonn where the 200-page Negotiating Text, including the proposals of Japan and Australia and an Implementing Agreement of the United States, was drafted; it was later consolidated and adopted (along with all the multitude of square brackets) in Bangkok.

Copenhagen is expected to provide answers to three key issues: What legally binding carbon emission reduction targets will developed (Annex-1) countries commit to? What actions will major developing (non-Annex-1) countries take to limit theirs? How will the emission mitigation and adaptation to climate change by developing countries be supported and managed with finance and technology?

The contours of the negotiations at COP-15 are already apparent. Copenhagen, in all likelihood, will not produce any agreement on the commitments and actions of developed and developing countries respectively in the post-2012 phase of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) that is acceptable to all the parties. Nor is it likely to resolve issues of money and technology. In fact, there is an imminent danger of a virtual termination of the Kyoto Protocol (which came into force in 2005), the dismantling of the Bali Action Plan (BAP) formulated at COP-13 in December 2007 as the guiding road map towards Copenhagen, and the undermining of the basic tenet of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR) of the Convention (Article 3.1) on which the KP is founded and the BAP was formulated. Already a political declaration, instead of a legally binding agreed outcome, is being talked about. For instance, the Danish Prime Minister and the host of the Copenhagen Summit, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, said in Singapore: Even if we may not hammer out the last dots of a legally binding instrument, I do believe a political binding agreement with specific commitment to mitigation and finance provides for a strong basis for immediate action in the years to come. A facade clearly, for when has a political declaration by heads of states ever become a binding instrument?

This was already becoming evident at the previous round of talks in Bangkok (September 28-October 9) when developed countries failed to put numbers on the table towards effecting deep cuts in their carbon emissions as required by science marshalled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of 2007. According to AR4, 25-40 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020, and 80-95 per cent reduction by 2050, from 1990 levels by developed countries is required if catastrophic and irreversible consequences of climate change, whose effects are already being felt, are to be avoided.

However, according to an August 19 statement of the UNFCCC Secretariat, the possible emission limitation and reduction objectives as agreed by Annex-1 parties amount only to a 16-23 per cent reduction by 2020, well short of the AR4 prescriptions as well as the demand of 40 per cent reductions made by G-77/China. If the target of 17-20 per cent cut of the U.S. (which is not a party to the KP) a la Waxman-Markey/Kerry-Boxer Bills is included, the aggregate reductions come down to a paltry 11-18 per cent. And the apparently more ambitious cuts proposed by the European Union, Japan and the United Kingdom come with caveats of comparable reductions by non-parties to the KP and major developing countries (read India and China). Further a substantial fraction of the targets is proposed to be achieved through offsets in non-Annex-1 countries the U.K., for example, aims to reduce 50 per cent of its target in the power sector through offsets and other carbon market mechanisms.

Indeed, compared to the overall 5.2 per cent reduction from 1990 levels required of Annex-1 countries to be effected by 2012 when the first phase of this legally binding target comes to an end there has been an 11.2 per cent increase in emissions since 1990. Moreover, there is an increasing trend in the emissions of Economies in Transition, which until 2000 was masking the increasing emissions of Annex-1 countries. This will no doubt push emissions further up in the near future, unless Annex-1 countries, which are entirely responsible for the imminent climate change owing to their current and historical emissions of CO{-2} into the atmosphere, accept immediate and drastic cuts, but such commitments are not on the anvil.

Globally, too, emissions are rising steadily because emissions of developing countries, which have the imperatives of development and poverty alleviation, are increasing. And herein lies the rationale in the climate convention for differentiated responsibilities and a quantified reduction target only for Annex-1 countries in the first phase of the KP and the subsequent phases of the protocol. While the developed countries are responsible for nearly three-fourths of the historical stock of emissions, they, with less than a fifth of the world population, still account for over half of the current emissions. The U.S. alone, with just 4.5 per cent of the population, is the worlds largest emitter accounting for over 21 per cent of the current CO{-2} emissions.

The chief barrier to an effective agreement at COP-15 is this disconnect between the U.S., with no legally binding emissions reduction commitments, and the rest of the world. The U.S. is, in fact, the chief provocateur of the current move to dismantle the present climate regime. With the concerted attempt by Annex-1 countries, led by the U.S. and supported by its cheer leaders, to turn the tables on non-Annex-1 countries and push for an altogether new instrument or treaty that erodes the distinction between developed and developing countries, the divisions between the contending groups have only got deeper. In fact, there would seem to be a deliberate propaganda move by developed countries to talk of expiry of the KP in 2012 as is evident in many media reports, Rasmussens interview with Reuters on November 2, for example.

Since the U.S. had refused to become party to the protocol, the BAP opened a new negotiating track under the UNFCCC to bring the U.S. into negotiations for the post-2012 phase. A new Ad hoc Working Group for Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) was set up at Bali to cover aspects of the UNFCCC of which the U.S. is a member. The other track, the Kyoto track, with the Ad hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex-1 parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP), which was set up in December 2005, would negotiate the new targets for Annex-1 countries (minus the U.S.) in the second commitment period beginning 2013, through an amendment to the protocol as mandated by its Article 3.9. These negotiations were to have been completed by April 2009 and the draft report was to have been finalised by June so that it could be taken up for discussions in Copenhagen. But there has been hardly any progress in all these.

Yvo De Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, said that a successful agreed outcome needed to capture a level of ambition commensurate with the scale of the problem, which included ambitious emission reduction targets by Annex-1 parties. Clearly, that is not in evidence at all but there is a push to make non-Annex-1 countries agree to verifiable mitigation actions and to shift the mitigation burden on to developing countries directly as well as indirectly through offsets by Annex-1 countries and other market mechanisms, which are not only zero-sum instruments but have so far proved highly inefficient.

Likewise, AWG-LCA is also supposed to arrive at an agreed outcome to be adopted at Copenhagen. The BAP mandated negotiations on this track to reach an agreement for now, up to and beyond 2012 on a shared vision of what parties aim to achieve, including a long-term goal for emission reductions, as well as on the BAPs four pillars: mitigation, including quantified commitments from Annex-1 countries and Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) by developing countries, adaptation, technology transfer and financing mechanism to support mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. These two outcomes, corresponding to the twin tracks under the UNFCCC and the KP, are substantively and operatively distinct. While the legality of the first track would follow from the KP, that of the latter is uncertain.

Under the AWG-LCA, however, the U.S. has proposed a bottom-up approach instead of the KP which calls for economy-wide targets for all the parties that would be binding through a pledge and review approach. Under this proposal, which was first mooted in Bonn in June, each nation would pledge national mitigation actions, including formulation and submission of low-carbon strategies towards an emissions pathway to 2050, which are open to an internationally agreed mechanism of measurement, reporting and verification (MRV). While MRV is generally acceptable to developing countries only for NAMAs that are supported by finance and technology from the developed countries, the U.S. all-encompassing proposal of mitigation elements common to all parties was perceived by developing countries to be inconsistent with the Convention and beyond the BAP mandate, and that it blurred the distinction between developed country mitigation commitments and developing country mitigation actions. The Bangkok talks, in fact, began with a clash on this issue.

However, the U.S. insisted that it would not move forward without the proposal being discussed. In fact, it was during this intervention in Bangkok that the U.S. negotiator said that the Indian Minister of State for Environment and Forests (MoEF), Jairam Ramesh, had taken a broader interpretation (read acceding to the U.S. proposal) as against the Indian negotiators (Frontline, November 20). Owing to this apparent shift in stance of the Indian executive, much to the discomfiture of the Indian negotiators, India would seem to have lost the trust of G-77/China. This was particularly in evidence in Barcelona.

The E.U. too supported this U.S. position towards evolving a single integrated instrument that would be a merger of the agreed outcomes of these two tracks. It argued that this new instrument would pick the key elements of the KP towards a new architecture to limit emissions in the post-2012 phase. Indeed, the draft protocols of Japan, Australia and the U.S. made in Bonn favoured a new binding single instrument under the UNFCCC. This found the informal support of other developed countries, including the E.U., Canada, New Zealand and Russia. This move, which was borne out of the developed countries demand of mitigation commitments of major developing countries such as China and India, essentially amounts to killing the KP because it is premised on the differentiated architecture between developed and developing countries, which the single instrument aims to do away with. This would essentially mean that developed countries would seek a single agreed outcome from the second track AWG-LCA alone, which does not have a legal underpinning of the KP track. That is, any commitments under it would not be legally binding unless it is agreed to and given legal teeth as a new treaty or protocol.

The train, said Su Wei, head of the Chinese delegation to Bangkok, that started on a two-track railway should have already been accelerated so as to arrive in Copenhagen in time. But to our great disappointment and dismayon the one hand, new roadblocks are going to be placed on the Convention trackand the train is going to be derailed. On the other, the two-track train is suddenly pushed onto a single track and the train is going to be topside down.

The Australian proposal is a schedules approach that would be applicable to all countries, not unlike the tariff reduction schedules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which has been supported by many developed countries. By requiring all countries to follow the same schedules approach, this proposal clearly removes all distinction between Annex-1 and non-Annex-1 countries. According to this, each party would submit a national schedule containing its mitigation strategies and emissions pathway that are dependent on national circumstances, capacities and capabilities. These could be in the form of economy-wide targets, from sectoral efficiency norms to technology and industrial process standards. This approach is quite along the lines of the U.S. Implementing Agreement, and it is quite conceivable that some developing countries could be pressured to accept this and submit their domestic actions to a central registry and be subjected to international verification.

The proposal requires developing countries whose national circumstances reflect greater responsibility or capability to take nationally appropriate mitigation commitments and/or actions aimed at achieving substantial deviation from baselines. While deviation from baselines of Business As Usual (BAU) is certainly desirable, and essential, from the developing countries perspective, subjecting them to MRV amounts to commitment, which is against the BAP, particularly if they are unsupported actions in terms of finance and technology. This differentiation within the group of developing countries is inconsistent with the UNFCCC as is also the MRV structure proposed by the U.S.

In Bangkok, the U.S. proposed an additional structure for MRV of mitigation actions that indicates one particular manner in which the distinction between developed and developing countries was being sought to be removed in these proposals. The U.S. has invoked Articles 4.1 (a) and 12 to extend this proposed MRV structure to all parties. This obviously is in contravention of the UNFCCC because it ignores Articles 4.2, 4.3, 4.4 and 4.7, which requires that developed countries take the lead in limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as well as in assisting non-Annex-1 countries through finance and technology.

The proposed structure requires all, except least developed countries (LDC), to provide annual inventories. Though it prescribes a differentiated reporting timetable, it requires developed countries and developing countries with greater than [X] per cent of world emissions which is not the same way the UNFCCC differentiates the two groups to report every two or three years. It has thus created a new category. Significantly, it talks of only aggregate and not per capita emissions.

But there is an essential difference between the U.S Implementing Mechanism proposal and the other proposals. While all of them amount to the demise of the KP, the latter could include a legally binding mechanism (for the individual NAMAs) under the UNFCCC, but the U.S. proposal implies being legally bound only under domestic law but admissible to international MRV. It is clear that such an instrument, based as it is on unilaterally declared non-prescriptive and non-treaty-linked mitigation measures of developed countries, is unlikely to result in emission reductions on the scale required by science. This is already evident from the lowly individual pledges and cuts envisaged under the U.S. law.

The very inclusion of these proposals in the negotiating text meant a discussion on mitigation elements common to all parties in Bangkok, which led to a non-paper by the Chair (No. 28) that collated the proposals of the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan, all of which argued for a single instrument that is a priori legally non-binding. This paper was further discussed in Barcelona but without any resolution because of the unequivocal opposition by G-77/China. This will travel to Copenhagen as well. While new texts on finance and technology did result, Barcelona witnessed almost zero progress. Acrimonious debates and wrangling over the same issues continued. The discussions on what are comparable measures, what is the duration of the second commitment period and the role of market mechanisms and offsets, important per se, took place but seemed pointless when the basic issue of deep cuts by developed countries in their GHG emissions remained unresolved.

Where does India figure in all this? Jairam Rameshs controversial letter to the Prime Minister (Frontline, November 20), where he openly advocated abandoning G-77 and aligning with G-20, and his statement at the pre-COP ministerial conference in Copenhagen on November 16-17 reflect the Indian executives submissive acceptance of developed countries abandoning of the KP for the illusive stature of a superpower and an elusive Security Council seat.

While the pre-COP statement does not go as far as openly accepting the Australian framework, it does offer domestic mitigation actions that are unsupported by finance and technology to be available for international consultations and external scrutiny as well as bi-annual reporting of domestic actions as required by the U.S. framework. This apparently is the governments bid to take a flexible approach at the climate negotiations so that it is seen as a deal maker and not a deal breaker.

Indeed, this also comes through in the joint statement of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and U.S. President Barack Obama on November 25, which talks of transparency of mitigation actions through appropriate process, a euphemism perhaps for the Australian or the U.S. framework. It talks only of an agreed outcome and not a legally binding outcome in Copenhagen. In contrast, China has yielded nothing and the Hu-Obama declaration is totally anchored in the Convention. A result of this dubious Indian position has been near isolation from G-77/China in Barcelona. Indeed, India was kept out of the G-77/China in the preparation of the document Options on Possible Forms of the Agreed Outcome.

So what are the possible COP-15 outcomes? 1. No agreement. 2. A decision or a set of decisions, a rather weak outcome. 3. A political implementing agreement, the kind that the U.S. has favoured, which allows each party to decide its own goals and how to reach them according to domestic laws and not internationally legally binding. 4. A single new legally binding agreement (Copenhagen Protocol) that replaces the KP and manages to bring the U.S. on board. Or, 5. Two protocols: KP plus a new binding agreement that includes the U.S. All indications are that it would be outcome 1 because 3 is strongly opposed by developing countries. and with the U.S. reluctance to have any legally binding commitment, 4 and 5 are out.

Seal the Deal is the famous slogan of U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon. But it is clear that there is unlikely to be any deal in Copenhagen and any discussions towards a new binding instrument may be pushed to the next COP, Copenhagen bis, as it has already been named, with a future with more severe warming, sea-level rise, glacial melting, floods and other disastrous impacts.


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