I should be on a bus home now; instead I’m sitting in the ICC waiting for the proverbial white smoke to emerge as ministers try to bring COP17 to a close. Last night was supposed to be the closing night for COP 17, but there has been much disagreement among the global community around some very problematic texts that are being discussed around long-term cooperative action and the Kyoto Protocol. We are still waiting for ministers to emerge to deliver the final COP plenary, but in the meantime there is worrying progress within the ministerial indaba. From draft texts released and leaked information from within the ministerial indaba, the following rather worrying picture can be pieced together.
With regards to the Kyoto Protocol (KP) it appears as if we will secure the 2nd commitment period (KP2C), it will run from 2013-2017 it is proposed. This is somewhat good news, however, what the KP2C lacks is ambition, for the current pledges could possibly lock the world onto a 3.5 degree path rather than the agreed 2 degree and required 1.5 degree path. Furthermore, Canada, Japan and Russia have declared (or perhaps rather confirmed ) that they will not sign onto the KP2C and of course Canada has already pulled out of the KP, which leaves them free from any serious repercussions if they don’t meet their (soon to be broken) promises under the KP. China, India and Brazil, some of the bigger emitters, because of their status as developing countries won’t have legally binding commitments for the duration of this. South Africa, however, has previously agreed to emission reduction targets although they do not represent their fair share of global emissions. The US, as always, is out of the KP altogether. So with this in mind there is a serious need to increase ambition on the KP so as not to make the post-Kyoto regime face an impossibly steep emissions reduction curve. However, after countries are requested to submit their quantified emission limitations and reduction commitments (QELROs) in May next year, there is no provision for countries to adjust their QELROs towards more ambitious targets. Furthermore LULUCF, which is one of the crucial structures underpinning the KP, remains very weak under the latest proposal; largely in part to some devious work by New Zealand within the negotiations (I am informed). So while many have proclaimed their love for KP over the past two weeks, I think they had a very different version of KP in mind.
Given the potentially weak KP that is set to come through, the importance of a more ambitious new legal regime to follow the KP becomes increasingly urgent. There has been much debate over when this regime will come into place, and what structure and form it will have, and the first LCA text proposed last night suggested 2020, which as many believe is too late. Many countries decried such a proposal, however, and many asked how the COP president could put such a proposal on the table. The later text proposed that working group should come into existence immediately in order to develop a new “legal instrument” and be adopted by no later than 2015. Given that the KP is set to go on until 2017 it’s not clear how the two instruments will work together, but the push for 2015 rather than 2020 is certainly a welcome piece of news. It remains to seen, however, whether China, India, the US and a few other countries will continue to push for 2020 and block progress on the matter. If they do succeed they could lock us into a very dangerous climate change trajectory and thus a lot of work and pressure needs to be done in order to get as many nations crossing over to the coalition of the willing who is pushing for 2015 among other things. There is also much work that needs to be done on fleshing out what exactly the legal instrument will be and how ambitious it will be. Ambition on mitigation is what is most needed, but is unfortunately what is most lacking.
The Green Climate Fund, which is supposed to facilitate the just transition to a green future, also remains highly problematic. While the bare structures are being put in place reference to long term sources of finance remain very weak and nothing substantial is on the table. It seems that the real work of filling the fund will be deferred to a later stage. There is a work programme in place to do that work, but the much needed funding to fill the fund is not there. This, however, was expected, as yesterday South Africa had admitted that they were wiling cede that no source of long-term finance would come from Durban. There are a number of other problematic elements that still need to be overcome, but the three above provide the major obstacles to progress.
The very real potential of an incredibly weak outcome must not be discounted, and in the case that we do get one, media and countries will often have a tendency to blame the COP President for the inability to achieve progress, but we must not be too quick to apportion blame to her. Although she does play an important role in facilitating progress, we must keep in mind that the real villains are in this picture are the ones who, no matter how good a chair you are, because of their stubborn attachment climate-dangerous short-sighted self-serving interests, refuse to allow progress to move. The US is once again playing a leading role in this area, and China and India are said to be hiding behind them, as well as Australia. The time has come to isolate the US and encourage China, India and Australia to join the coalition of the willing, but is it too late? Hopefully an answer will come soon, but as I finish this off we are still waiting in corridors of the ICC hoping to hear an announcement of what is happening.
About the authorAlex Lenferna
Tracking #SouthAfrica's role in #UNFCCC / #climatechange negotiations for @adoptnegotiator. Philosopher, environmentalist, activist, perpetual student and more