Tuesday, September 6, 2011

BASIC Ministers Push Kyoto as Focus of Durban Climate Meet

Source: Bridges Trade BioRes

Ministers from key developing countries have signalled their intention of making a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol the “central priority” of the end-of-year UN climate meet in Durban, South Africa. The officials, representing the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China), insisted that Kyoto is a cornerstone of the multilateral efforts to combat climate change and that failure to agree to a second commitment period would undermine the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process.

“Agreeing on the second commitment period is the central priority for Durban, as failure in this regard would generate a challenge to multilateralism and would undermine the rules based multilateral response to climate change under the UNFCCC,” ministers attending the 26-27 August meeting in Brazil said in a joint statement.

The move comes at a time when a handful of crucial countries - Canada, Japan, and Russia - have openly rejected the idea of signing on to a second commitment period. But with Kyoto’s first commitment period set to expire in 2012, developing countries appear poised to make the Durban Conference of the Parties (COP) a battleground for preserving the only legally-binding climate change agreement.

The EU, representing some 13 percent of global emissions, is the only representative of major developed countries that has signalled its tentative intention to negotiate a second commitment period. But the absence of major economies - particularly the US, which never signed Kyoto in the first place - calls the usefulness of exercise into question.

In a pessimistic editorial, the Economist opined last Thursday, “never has the UN’s Kyoto protocol looked sorrier.” The article goes on to stress that not only does Durban appear poised to determine little due to the question of Kyoto, but suggests that rich countries have also done little to ensure they are able to meet their commitments agreed to last December in Cancun (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 14 December 2010).

Carbon levels unprecedented despite efforts

Another factor that will undoubtedly shape the way Kyoto is discussed in Durban is data released earlier this year by the International Energy Agency showing that 2010 marked the highest global carbon dioxide output levels ever recorded. With much of the carbon spike attributed to coal-reliant emerging countries - notably China, now the world’s largest polluter - developed countries have even less of an incentive to extend an international agreement to which developing countries have no binding commitments.

China has committed to reduce its “carbon intensity” - carbon emissions relative to production or consumption - by 40 percent by 2020 and Brazil has committed to reduce its overall emissions by 36 percent, but it is unclear whether gestures such as these will create any buy-in incentive for developed countries.

Further complicating matters is the continued poor economic outlook across the developed world, pushing politicians to focus their attention on domestic matters, such as job creation. But despite the gloomy outlook forwarded by some, Parties to the UNFCCC have proved that they have the capacity to find common ground when needed. After all, prospects for reaching a deal going into last year’s Cancun meeting were grim indeed.

Opportunity in adversity: Figueres

In an interview with Reuters last week, Christiana Figueres, the UNFCCC’s executive secretary, said world’s ongoing economic problems should be seen as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle to act on climate change.

“Governments have a huge opportunity here to address some of that economic recovery while addressing climate change,” she said. “It is win-win.”

The climate chief said there are opportunities for hammering out some sort of deal on Kyoto and that an “important group of countries” are engaged in talks on the issue.

“I would say governments are in a creative phase and will explore what would be a middle ground which has to be acceptable to all countries,” she said.

But speaking Monday from the low lying archipelago Kiribati, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was less optimistic. “It is most unfortunate, but perhaps correct, to say that any further significant progress on climate change negotiations is highly unlikely in the near future,” he said.

However, Ban assured his audience that he would bring the concerns of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) back to the United Nations and to the Durban COP. Kiribati is one of the countries most threatened by rising sea levels resulting from climate change.

In the UNFCCC-context, there is discussion about countries’ response measures to mitigate climate change and their potential to have an impact on the social and economic development of other, in particular developing, countries. Several of these measures are trade-related, such as standards and labelling, subsidies, or border measures.

The increasingly dispersed landscape when it comes to carbon abatement policies is causing growing concern among Parties. Such unilateral measures were singled-out as an area of special concern by the BASIC Ministers last week. The prospect of Annex I (developed) country members choosing to present their unilateral emissions mitigation contributions under the Ad-hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action (LCA), rather than under the Kyoto Protocol “can only be the reflection of reduced political will to cut their greenhouse gas emissions,” they said.

In recognition of this, the UNFCCC-secretariat has convened a three-day workshop dedicated to response measures, which will take place in Bonn later this month. The workshop is intended to bridge gaps between country positions on the issue before Durban gets underway.


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