Wednesday, 12 October 2011

“No post-Kyoto agreement in Durban” climate negotiators signalled in Panama City

Decisiveness in Durban climate talks, later this year, has been already ruled out as a result of slow or no progress in the last preparatory meeting for the climate negotiators in Panama City, early October. A good analogy would work out as follows: the climate agreement is a gulf, the developing and developed nations are the coasts on both sides, and due to the climate impacts there is erosion in the gulf’s coasts. However, the impacts in this case are financial rather than environmental.  

Panama City talks have repeated the fundamental shift in climate diplomacy from saving the environment to saving the global negotiation process. The meeting closed last Friday not on resolving the potential setbacks before Durban, but on “starting to work out a technical framework for the future” as some officials said. The dilemma between the developing and developed countries is still the major struggle in the face of reaching a global deal, and thus Durban will not make history, it will add to the “building blocks” efforts. “Countries are trying pretty hard to scale expectations down to a realistic level for Durban” said Jennifer Haverkamp, the international climate program director at the US-based Environmental Defense Fund.

The developing nations are still in favour of another period of Kyoto Protocol. “The Kyoto protocol is a cornerstone of the climate change regime, and nothing will be achieved unless it can be adopted in Durban” said the Chair of the G77 and China, Jorge Argüello of Argentina. However, It is well known now that this protocol will not help meeting the climate challenge. A universal legally-binding regime, bundled with financial and technological transfers, is essential. On the other hand, the developed countries are trying to push for replacing the legally binding Kyoto Protocol with new voluntary-based climate regime.  Nations including Russia, Canada and Japan have repeatedly said they will not sign on for another Kyoto-style commitment period when the current one expires.

The future of the Kyoto has prompted an increasingly frantic search for an alternative plan. The European Union’s willingness to continue committed to Kyoto is welcomed, but this will cover only 11-15% of the global emissions. Notwithstanding that the EU ETS consistently proved its inefficiency in setting the required carbon price. The EU also called for two parallel treaties that extend the Kyoto Protocol for those covered by the agreement, and instrument it with binding emissions targets on countries that currently face no solid emissions reduction commitments, a proposal presented last year in Cancun.

Australia and Norway recently presented a new proposal to rescue climate talks through a binding agreement by 2015. In response the EU proposed a temporary treaty that extends Kyoto until 2015 in order to maintain the legal foundations for carbon trading schemes while allowing more time for a compromise deal to be reached and avoid any gap period. "Governments are exploring precisely those middle-ground solutions." UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said. "That is going to be the crux of Durban." she added.

On the individual level, the Australian parliament has successfully passed the carbon tax bill, a step forward for a progressive carbon pricing regime. On the contrary of what the opposition claimed that it will increase the cost of living and affect jobs, this tax will introduce the real social cost of carbon emissions. It is a progressive policy in its fundamental setting; the households who face increasing costs will benefit from other tax cuts or welfare increase. Such setting is called “Double Dividend” carbon pricing where the taxing system is shifted in a more sustainable direction that doesn’t increase the tax account for the public, yet it triggers changing their behaviour.

In the world of academia things are interpreted differently. Grantham Research Institute at LSE suggested in a research that given the advancements in the national global-warming legislations there is still room for optimism. This reflects the growing realisation that actions on climate change are in the national interest; preventing energy poverty, resources efficiency, air quality, public health, and the competitive advantage in the future low-carbon economy. The asymmetric climate impacts between the notations are vital factors as well. This shift would minimize the pressure on the articulation of sharing the global cost of climate treaty. As mentioned in this blog earlier, these increasing attitudes are welcome as they will prepare the countries for easier integration of their national policy in the international treaty. However, this is not to suggest that we have reached the level of actions required to achieve the 2 degrees goal.

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany used game theoretic models to analyse and predict the strategic behaviour of every country.  The paper concludes that America will never sign up, but the EU will if China does, which is unlikely if Africa doesn't. No nation wants to go on its own, Russia doesn't want to do anything, and the poor want the rich to absorb all the costs but the rich will only agree to sign if the poor do more. The paper further states that the evident free-riding practices – especially by the US, Canada and Russia – is the major stick in the negotiation wheel. Successful international agreement should penalise the nations that don’t meet their targets. Such clause is included neither in Kyoto Protocol nor in any succeeding mechanisms. Other measure to deal with the free-riding issue was allowing the committed countries to deviate in meeting their targets in the future, if other countries failed meeting theirs in the past.

What is more, the emerging economies stated in Panama City that they won’t sign any treaty before finalising the mechanisms behind the Green Climate Fund. The developed nations were resisting any trials to clarify these mechanisms. Despite the fact that the fund was agreed upon in principle in previous meetings, yet the mechanisms are still blurred and thus the fund can’t materialise in its optimal form. This is again to present the undemocratic practices in the negotiations. Not to mention that the fast-track funds are not yet delivered as promised.

A draft text on long-term financing was released on Friday, and a UNFCCC committee will hold a final discussion on the fund's framework while the G20 is expected to discuss green finance plans at its next meeting. Then the committee will present official proposals in Durban, which, if they didn’t meet the developing countries expectations, will bring down all the efforts in Durban. This is highly potential since members in the American congress are increasingly sceptical about the foreign aid, the European Union is facing new financial turmoil, and the Japanese are drowning in their debts after the quake-tsunami tragedy in March.

On the technological mechanisms side, India is pushing for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) regime for developing countries to have access to costly clean western technologies under the definition as the right to have equal access to global atmospheric space - something opposed by the developed countries. In its proposal in Panama City, India has linked equity with access to sustainable development and called for a bar on imposing “unfair trade practices in the name of climate protection”. This was largely linked to its opposition to the European Union’s plan to tax airlines under ETS, which potentially will cause friction at Durban.

The Brazilian diplomat André Corrêa do Lago said “Durban will have an impact on Rio. If it goes well, people will arrive in Rio trusting the multilateral system. If it fails, people will arrive maybe with the necessity of regaining trust in the multilateral system.” Again, efforts are focused on saving the multilateral system rather than the climatic one.

Developed countries don’t want to bear their high share of climate treaty’s cost as serious technological and financial support is needed to be transferred to poor nations, and most developing countries don’t intend to strengthen and legally bind their actions neither making them subject to fair MRV measures. This is the erosion of the gulf’s coasts.

South Africa has a big responsibility in ensuring transparent and democratic running to the talks this December in Durban. In addition to that, they should push for real progress that reflects their commitment to the African people as one the most affected by any climatic tragedy. South Africa will host pre-CoP talks in two weeks time to encourage the parties to connect informally.

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