By Marwaan Macan-Markar, IPS News, September 9, 2012
As government negotiators from the world’s poorest countries ended a round of United Nations climate change talks in the Thai capital, they sounded a grave note about what appears imminent when they assemble in November in Doha – the reading of the last rites of the Kyoto Protocol.
“We are concerned that the environmental integrity of the Kyoto Protocol, which is the only international treaty that binds developed nations to lower (greenhouse gas) emissions, and thus our lone assurance that action will be taken, is eroding before our eyes,” declared a statement released by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the Africa Group, which represent over a billion people vulnerable to the ravages of extreme weather.
Such concern about the fate of the Kyoto Protocol in the capital of Qatar, where negotiators from over 190 countries will gather for a U.N. climate summit, is with reason. The upcoming 18th conference of the parties (CoP 18) will be the last meeting before the clock runs out on Dec. 31for the world’s industrialised countries to meet their initial, legally-binding greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and to announce new legally binding cuts for the second period as 2013 dawns.
But as analysts who followed the week-long talks in Bangkok noted, the world’s richer nations appear determined to walk away from the leadership they have been expected to demonstrate under the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 treaty, which entered into force in 2005 after nearly a decade of negotiations.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, a cornerstone of the U.N.’s international climate change architecture – the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFFC) – the world’s 37 industrialised nations and the European Union (EU) pledged to reduce their greenhouse gases by five percent, measured against 1990 levels by the end of 2012, when the first phase of the protocol ends.
During the climate talks here, which ran from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, the “Annex 1 countries” as the bloc of industrialised countries are dubbed under the Kyoto Protocol, offered little hope to the developing world that the talks will produce new, legally binding emission cuts that are higher than the prevailing five percent to cover a period from 2013-2020.
“The negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol need to be concluded successfully, and that means having the second commitment period in place by the Doha CoP,” says Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, a Geneva-based intergovernmental policy think tank of developing countries. “It was meant to be revealed at the last Cop in Durban, but it was postponed by a year.
“That is why the Doha talks will have to be about the Kyoto Protocol; if not what is the point in all these negotiations,” he tells IPS. “The disappointment of developing country negotiators was evident during the final session at the Bangkok talks. They realised that the developed countries are not showing any leadership to meet their obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.”
Even the EU’s offer to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent over an eight-year period from 2013 onwards was dismissed by environmental activists. “The Kyoto Protocol that the European Union wants here is one that is not legal, but merely a ‘political decision’,” says Asad Rehman, head of international climate at Friends of the Earth, a global green campaigner. “The 20 percent target the EU is offering is ‘business as usual,’ and business as usual is killing the climate – it is criminal.”
Environmental activists are fortified by scientific reports that call for more emission cuts to prevent the planet’s temperature from rising to levels that could cause environmental havoc. The Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has called for global emission cuts of 25 to 40 percent by 2020 to keep the world’s temperature from not rising about two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial age mark.
And other critics of the industrial countries argue that a climate regime being pushed by the world’s biggest polluters, accounting for 70 percent of the GHGs from 1890 to 2007, could condemn the planet to a worse fate. “What was agreed (at the last CoP in 2011) in Durban is a regime of ‘laissez faire’ until 2020, where only ‘voluntary pledges’ for emission reductions will be done,” wrote leading members of Focus on the Global South, a Bangkok-based think tank, in a commentary in the Bangkok Post.
“The tragedy is that these pledges are going to represent only a 13 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels,” says Pablo Solon, executive director, and Walden Bell, a co-founder, of Focus on the Global South. “This will lead to an increase in the global temperature of at least four to six degrees Celsius in this century.”
The United States, despite being the world’s worst polluter, stood its ground during the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol’s greenhouse gas cuts by refusing to sign onto the legally binding five percent target. And now, it is flexing its muscle to steamroll over expectations the developing world had for the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol.
“The U.S. government is opposed to a top-down structure under the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period,” says Meena Raman, legal advisor to the Third World Network, a think tank lobbying for developing country interests, based in Penang, Malaysia. “The U.S. is for a voluntary pledging system to cut emissions that is not based on science nor based on equity.”
Yet even if the deadlock over the future of the Kyoto Protocol is broken in Doha, the scenarios that will unfold leave little room for optimism for the worst affected from climate-related disasters – the world’s poor. “Even if we see a second commitment period emerge, it will look even bleaker, since the targets under the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period have not been met,” says Dorothy-Grace Guerrero, coordinator of the climate and environment justice programme at Focus on the Global South.
“AOSIS has placed numbers on the negotiating table for the survival of small island states from rising sea level,” she tells IPS. “They want Annex 1 countries to slash their emissions by 50 percent from 1990 levels for the second commitment period.”