Battle half-won

Print edition : January 29, 2010

A RADIATION-PROTECTION MASK placed on Copenhagen's famous Little Mermaid statue by the international "Don't Nuke the Climate" campaign run by 10 environmental non-governmental organisations.-DON'T NUKE THE CLIMATE /HO/AFP

THE 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at Copenhagen has clearly failed to deliver what the world community expected of it, namely, a legally binding agreement that is ambitious in the sense of deep cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by developed countries to prevent irreversible climate change, and is yet viable and also equitable in the sense of providing adequate carbon space for the legitimate development and economic growth of developing countries that social justice demands.

The Copenhagen Accord, as the final outcome is called, was arrived at in the late hours of December 18 in a closed-door meeting of five heads of state President Barack Obama of the United States with the heads of government of China, India, Brazil and South Africa, countries known as the BASIC Four. This political agreement was formalised in the early hours of December 19, the final day of the negotiations which lasted 13 days. Significantly, and not unexpectedly, the accord eluded consensus, a necessary condition for being termed even as a COP decision, with Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba firmly opposing the accord. As a result, the accord was merely taken note of under the UNFCCC and would be an agreement among states that declared their adherence to it.

It was clear in the run-up to Copenhagen that the host, Denmark, was in fact making all efforts to ensure such a weak outcome at Copenhagen a political declaration by the state heads rather than a legally binding outcome as a result of the due democratic process of negotiations under the UNFCCC. As differences between the Annex-1 (or developed) and the non-Annex-1 (or developing) countries were seemingly hard to bridge, and with the refusal by the U.S. to join the Kyoto process, Denmark invented this tactic of political declaration that would build on the pledge-and-review scheme that was being evolved by developed countries since June 2009. Accordingly, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen invited as many as 115 heads of state to the conference, and the conference was structured in a manner that ensured the meeting of the political heads would forge such a non-binding, leader-driven declaration.

The conference comprised two segments. The first was between December 7 and 15, which involved negotiations at the official level. Given the original Danish intent and the final outcome, it became largely inconsequential. The second was between December 16 and 18, which involved a high-level segment at the ministerial level. In addition, the Danish Chair of COP-15 had invited Ministers from all countries for informal consultations from December 12 to 17. The heads of state had been invited to the high-level segment on December 17 and 18. In particular, the Chair held informal discussions with the Friends of the Chair who comprised a group of 27 countries that included China, India and the U.S. to assist the Chair in forging a consensual outcome, especially when serious differences remained to be resolved.

These informal discussions did not succeed and, indeed, many heads of state were preparing to leave. It was at this juncture that Obama decided to make a last-ditch effort through separate bilateral meetings with the BASIC Four. Reports say that when he appeared for the scheduled meeting with Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier, he found to his surprise that all the leaders of the BASIC Four had assembled in the room. It is not clear if this was a planned strategy by the BASIC Four, but negotiating in strength with Obama had its positive effect. It resulted in the final accord recognising the basic principles governing developing countries that flowed from the UNFCCC.

Without any deep emission reduction commitments by the developed (or Annex-1) countries on the table, particularly for the medium term as the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) requires, it is indeed fortuitous that there was opposition from the Latin American countries. Otherwise, there was the imminent danger of this weak accord acquiring the force of a binding resolution under the UNFCCC and possibly becoming the template for future negotiations and action. This would mean a complete scuttling of the Conventions core principles, which include Annex-1 countries historic responsibility to mitigate against climate change on the basis of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, the Kyoto Protocols burden-sharing mechanism that mandates emission cuts by Annex-1 countries, and the Bali Action Plan that calls upon Parties to build on the Kyoto process and establish long-term cooperation, particularly through technology and financial support from Annex-1 countries, to achieve the UNFCCCs objectives.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao in Copenhagen on December 18.-KAMAL KISHORE/PTI

One should hasten to add that this cannot be completely ruled out. Only the next round of UNFCCC negotiations, in June 2010, will tell us what is in store for the future.

Some developed countries, in particular European countries, and the associated media have blamed China for the lack of a binding commitment in the accord and other major developing countries, including India, for such a weak accord. The British Secretary for Environment, Ed Miliband, writing in The Guardian on December 20, accused China of vetoing two specific commitments that had been included in the draft of the accord one, that of a 50-per cent reduction from 1990 levels in global emissions by 2050 and, two, an 80-per cent reduction from 1990 levels by Annex-1 countries by 2050. In effect, these commitments are no different from what was already declared by G8 and the Major Economies Forum (MEF) at LAquila, Italy, last year.

The IPCC has recommended that Annex-1 countries effect a 25-40-per cent cut in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020. Without such additional mid-term targets it is far from clear how the 2050 targets are meant to be realised. As has been recently argued in Economic & Political Weekly by researchers from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, if Annex-1 countries are unwilling to undertake more drastic cuts in emissions up to 2020 than their current weak pledges, they end up grabbing more carbon space that would only perpetuate the current inequities of development and economic growth between developed and developing countries. Chinas rejection of the long-term targets has the salutary effect of the Parties ensuring that the accord does not form the basis for future negotiations and developed countries concerted attempts at killing the Kyoto Protocol do not succeed.

Indeed, in his address at the plenary on December 18 at Copenhagen, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh emphasised the importance of the Rio-Kyoto-Bali process. [T]he need for action on our part is more, and not less, than what was envisaged at the time of the Rio Convention or the Kyoto Protocol. That is why the Bali Action Plan commits us to enhancing the implementation of the UNFCCC. To settle for something less than that would be seen as diminished expectations and diminished implementation would be the wrong message to emerge from the Conference. Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, in his suo motu statement in Parliament on December 22, said: The major outcome of the conference is the fact that the negotiations under the UNFCCC will continue to proceed on two tracks as set out in the Bali Road Map one relating to the long-term cooperative action for enhancing implementation of the convention and the second relating to the second commitment period of Annex-1 Parties under the Kyoto Protocol The contents of the accord are not legally binding, nor do they constitute a mandate for a new negotiating process under the UNFCCC.

This, indeed, is a major positive outcome of COP-15, which otherwise would have been a complete disaster. No doubt, the BASIC Four have yielded some ground in order to arrive at a mutually agreeable accord that does not negate the twin-track process established at Bali under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. In the complete absence of any agreement, the developing countries, China and India in particular, would have been called deal-breakers. Perhaps it was a strategically conceived move by China and India to concede a little so as to ensure that the sanctity of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol was preserved; in the process they brought the U.S. into future negotiations. In this, of course, the collective stand of the leftist Latin American governments to prevent the accord from becoming a legal UNFCCC document was particularly important.

The perspective of developed countries on the outcome is, however, quite the opposite. The accord is no more than a framework for putting in place a pledge-and-review process that is not legally binding. This is what the U.S. has all along been trying to hustle the Parties into accepting via the Australian Proposal in Bangkok (see Frontline, November 11, 2009), which included a schedule of actions pledged voluntarily by nations and a World Trade Organisation-like review-cum-verification mechanism. A build-up towards such a legally non-binding political declaration had been in the works for some time in the run-up to Copenhagen through the efforts of the Danish Chair as well as through informal meetings in small groups at Copenhagen through the different versions of what has come to be called the Danish Text. The developing countries, however, had serious objections to the Danish Text. Ultimately, the accord emerged as a compromise formula that was ironed out by the U.S. and the BASIC Four following some concessions made by the latter towards transparency (read reporting and verification) of their mitigation actions as the U.S. had desired and the inclusion of elements that the BASIC Four wanted. Naturally, the U.S. views the accord as a major success.

Indeed, in his remarks on December 18 (and the select press interaction that followed) at Copenhagen, Obama said: Today weve made meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough. We agreed to join an international effort to provide financing to help developing countries adapt to climate change. And we reaffirmed the necessity of listing our national actions and commitments in a transparent way. These components transparency, mitigation and finance form the basis of the common approach that the U.S. and our partners embraced here in Copenhagen. I believe what we have achieved in Copenhagen will not be the end but rather the beginning of a new era of international action (emphasis added, throughout).

The European Union and Britain, though are not entirely happy that the 2050 targets were vetoed by China, are not unhappy either for they feel that they have brought developing countries to agree to commitments, something they have all along been campaigning for. Of course it was right to consider whether we should sign, wrote Miliband, who accused China and other leftist countries of hijacking the conference. But to have vetoed the agreement would have meant walking away from progress made in the last year and the real outcomes that are part of this accord, including finance for poor countries . For the first time developing countries have agreed to emissions commitments for the next decade . These commitments will also for the first time be listed and independently scrutinised We have also established an unprecedented commitment among rich countries to finance the response to climate change. In the months ahead these concrete achievements must be secured and extended, he said.

A bed of corals off Malaysias Tioman island in the South China Sea. The biologically diverse reefs will disappear by the end of this century, wiping out coastal economies, if the issue of climate change is not addressed.-DAVID LOH/REUTERS

In the following, we comment on some of the salient features of the Copenhagen Accord and their implications.

Clause 1 of the accord is a statement of political will to combat climate change in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and the recognition of the need to stabilise atmospheric GHG concentrations so that the increase in global temperature is below 2C. The inclusion of the burden-sharing principle of the UNFCCC in the accord has been clearly at the insistence of the BASIC Four. It should be pointed out here that Obama, in his address to the plenary at Copenhagen, had deliberately changed responsibilities into responses to be in tune with the stand of developed countries, which have sought to blur the distinction between Annex-1 and non-Annex-1 countries and make major developing economies such as India and China accept binding emission reduction targets.

Clause 2 recognises the need for meeting the objectives of science on the basis of equity. It also calls for global emissions to peak as soon as possible and, importantly, recognises that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries. It must be pointed out that developed countries have consistently resisted giving a commitment for the peaking period. The Danish Text, in fact, went as far as to claim falsely that the developed countries emissions have already peaked when the UNFCCCs recent data (for 2008) had clearly shown that their emissions are on the rise. Significantly, on the insistence again of the BASIC Four, this clause borrows the UNFCCC statement that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries and also that a low-emission strategy is indispensable for sustainable development.

Both Clauses 1 and 3 emphasise the need for international support for adaptation by developing countries, particularly the vulnerable ones, an aspect that had been marginalised in the negotiations all along which have laid more emphasis on mitigation. Clause 3 says: We agree that developed countries shall provide adequate, predictable and sustained financial resources, technology and capacity building to support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries.

Clause 8 puts a figure on this commitment. The collective commitment, it says, is to provide new and additional resources approaching $30 billion for the period 2010-2012 with balanced allocation between mitigation and adaptation with priority for the most vulnerable countries. For meaningful mitigation actions with transparency on implementation, there is a commitment by developed countries to mobilise $100 billion a year jointly by 2020, which is expected to come from a combination of public and private sources through bilateral and multilateral routes. It may be pointed out that this was the figure Hillary Clinton had dangled at Copenhagen to lure developing countries into mitigation commitments, but it must be added that it is far from clear how this sum will be raised especially when it is only a statement in the accord and not a COP decision.

Clause 4 is the operational part that is of immediate relevance, which effectively blurs the distinction between Annex-1 and non-Annex-1 countries. It calls for Annex-1 Parties to implement individually or collectively quantified economy-wide emission targets for 2020, and these should be submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat by January 31, 2010. It also states that delivery of reductions and financing will be measured, reported and verified (MRVed) in accordance with existing and any further guidelines adopted by the COP. Non-Annex-1 Parties too are required to implement mitigation actions as per this clause, which too should be submitted to the UNFCCC by January 31, 2010. These mitigation actions, including national inventory reports, have to be communicated every two years on the basis of guidelines to be adopted by the COP. Mitigation actions by non-Annex-1 countries would, however, be subject only to domestic MRV mechanism but with provisions for international consultations and analysis under clearly defined guidelines that will ensure that national sovereignty is respected.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK Obama speaks at the plenary session on December 18, 2009.-ANJA NIEDRINGHAUS/AP

There are potential problems here. As a negotiator pointed out, the unilateral offer of international consultations, as Jairam Ramesh made, the developed countries would only be quick to latch on to it and enforce it. These phrases consultation and analysis are completely undefined as yet. These, as an analyst has argued, are merely euphemisms for international scrutiny, which the Minister had assured Parliament that India would not accept. It is also not clear how the UNFCCC will be able to frame guidelines for these as well as for the MRVs, when the Accord is not a COP decision at all. The U.S. has, however, invoked the UNFCCCs Article 7.2(c), to argue that the UNFCCC has a role as a facilitator for bilateral or multilateral agreements that are designed to meet the objectives of the convention.

Nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) seeking international support will be recorded in a registry, a concept that formed part of the Australian Proposal and the Danish Text for individual pledges, along with relevant technology, finance and capacity building support. And these supported NAMAs will be subjected to international MRV, akin to those for the Annex-1 commitments, in accordance with the to-be-evolved guidelines. In the implementation of this part, the developed-developing distinction would get completely obliterated. The accord, via Clause 7, also emphasises the importance of markets and carbon-trading mechanisms for mitigation actions by developed countries, which actually amounts to developing countries taking extra mitigation burden in the already restricted carbon space available to them; this obviously would limit their development and growth needs.

Even though the accord calls for establishing Green Climate Fund as an operating entity for the financial mechanism envisaged and created, it is not clear how this can be established because once again it would require a COP decision to mandate that. Similarly, the proposal to establish a Technology Mechanism to accelerate technology development and transfer in support of mitigation and adaptation actions in developing countries would require a COP decision, which the accord is not.

Given the growing scientific view that the increase in global temperatures should be restricted to 1.5C, instead of 2C, the accord calls for an assessment of its implementation to be completed by 2015 and, if required, alter the long-term goals accordingly.

From the above, and given the perspectives of the developed countries, it is clear that the Annex-1 countries will push for the accord becoming a binding document in lieu of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto process in the coming months of negotiations. It is this that the non-Annex-1 countries must guard against and resist. They have to ensure that the Kyoto discussions mandate developed countries to much deeper cuts than they have pledged so far, including targets for the mid-term, for the second commitment period beginning 2013. It is highly unlikely that Annex-1 countries, in their declarations by January 31, would commit to any deeper and more ambitious cuts than the weak targets that are on the table so far.

A fortuitously leaked internal document of the UNFCCC during the Copenhagen conference also served to reveal the flip side of this pledge-and-review mechanism being pushed by developed countries and place the current emissions situation in the proper perspective. The confidential document had assessed the pledges, voluntary actions and policy goals made by Annex-1 and non-Annex-1 Parties, based on the most recent emission scenarios presented in the World Energy Outlook 2009 of the International Energy Agency (IEA). Using the limiting value of 44 gigatonnes (Gt) of emissions required by various studies to achieve stabilisation of GHG concentration to 450 parts per million (ppm) by 2050 needed to keep the warming below 2C, the study found that, after accounting of various pledged emission reductions and stated policy goals, there was still a gap of around 1.9 - 4.2 Gt to be met to satisfy the 44 Gt limit. Unless this gap is closed and Parties commit themselves to strong action prior to and after 2020, global emissions would remain on an unsustainable pathway that could lead to concentrations equal to or above 550 ppm with the related temperature rise being around 3C, the study has warned.

Interestingly, the studys analysis shows that the amounts of emission reduction through voluntary actions of developing or non-Annex-1 countries were more than the pledges made by Annex-1 countries. The facts revealed by the document should only make the resolve of developing countries stronger to fight for a legally binding agreement that mandates deeper cuts by Annex-1 countries at least by December 2010.

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