By Payal Parekh
Thirty-six hours after the climate change conference countries agreed to a weak agreement that is lacking in ambition, equity and justice. While a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol has been agreed to, three major polluters Japan, Canada and Russia (and of course the United States) are not participating, the targets are much lower than what science demands, and there are a number of loopholes that essentially negate the targets. Forestry management rules are akin to cooking the books, and dealing with surplus AAUs has been punted to next year. It is not yet clear whether the commitment period is 5 years or 8 years long.
The meaningful and visionary components of the Bali Action Plan (BAP), a roadmap that aimed at getting the United States to take action against climate change and expand the focus of the climate change agreement to include mitigation in developing countries, technology transfer, finance and adaptation, have been lost. Negotiations on the BAP will end next year. While decisions have been taken on some issues, there are a number of pending issues that are not likely to be dealt with.
Instead of finishing work on all items related to BAP, a new process called the Durban Platform is being launched to develop a protocol or another legal instrument or outcome applicable to all countries. The work should be completed by 2015 so that it can come into effect by 2020. While there is a list of issues that this Durban Platform should work on, it is not as comprehensive as the BAP as the essential concept of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) is missing from the text.
What needs to be done is clear: global emissions need to be reduced and quickly. If humanity wants to have a three in four chance of limiting global temperature rise to 2 C, emissions cannot exceed 1000 Gt between 2000 and 2050. Yet, we have already used up approximately one-third of this budget in the first decade of this century. If we know how much we can spend in the next forty years, why is it proving so difficult to find an equitable and just distribution of the remaining budget while taking into account historic emissions?
Rather than decide today to save our future tomorrow, new working groups and negotiating blocks are constructed to continuing chatting so that it appears as if the countries are trying to reign in climate change. But with each passing day, the problem becomes more dire and urgent. The longer we wait to detox from fossil fuels, the harder it gets to kick our habit. It also doesn’t make sense economically. According to Faith Biriol, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency, “delaying action is a false economy” for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent to compensate for the increased emissions.”
On the carbon markets front there is not much positive news to report. Modalities and procedures for including Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) as an eligible project type under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has been approved. CCS is neither a safe nor a proven technology. In fact no large scale project exists yet and such projects are so expensive that the additional finance from the sale of carbon credits (especially at the current price of less Euro 5 per tonne) would hardly make a difference to the profitability of such projects. This is yet another example of the CDM supporting false solutions; unproven techno fixes that don’t shift economies away from fossil fuels.
While there was no agreement to a new market-based mechanism, it has been defined and a work programme has been agreed to in order to develop procedures and modalities for a mechanism. Furthermore, countries such as New Zealand, US, Japan and Australia want to be able to use credits from market-based mechanisms that they create outside of the UNFCCC to comply with emission reduction pledges. A work programme was also established to consider how to evaluate such approaches. This is dangerous, as it will require close monitoring of a different number of mechanisms and the ability to ensure that they are compatible with one another. This is akin to a blanque check for use of markets.
Now it is essential that civil society and social movements regroup to reconsider strategies to curb global warming. It is up to us to shift outcomes from those that preserve the status quo (polluters) to those that are good for the people and the environment.