Global climate negotiators hunkered down in Bonn’s Hotel Maritim today in one of the last negotiating sessions before the major meeting this December in Cancun.
Last year’s negotiations in Copenhagen ended with a political agreement brokered by the United States that said the world should limit warming to 2 degrees centigrade from pre-industrial levels. All governments that agreed with the sentiment were invited to submit their own domestic commitments by the end of last January. Those numbers would then be used as the basis for negotiating a more permanent agreement.
Leaving aside the fact that when you do the math, the global commitments come up short in providing a strong chance at the 2 degree stabilization, with the Senate’s recent decision to stop work on climate legislation the US is in a difficult position to defend its own actions at Bonn and help move along the negotiation process.
Today, the European Union envoy said that they are unlikely to sign on to a continuation of the reductions mandated under the Kyoto agreement without the United States involved in some sort of framework.
Head US negotiator, Todd Stern, today said that the international community shouldn’t worry: the US commitment stands. The assumption of the Obama Administration is that they can accomplish significant reductions using regulatory mechanisms via the EPA and other federal agencies.
This may be the case, but independent analysis indicates that even if the federal government and all of the states who have plans on the books for greenhouse gas reductions pursue the most aggressive actions, the US 2020 commitment will be unattainable in the absence of Congressional action.
It will be interesting to see global reaction to the US over the next week as the meetings progress in Bonn. With Stern not backing down from an untenable position, it will give other countries an excuse to avoid their own action creating further stalemate in the effort to come to a global deal.
The UN climate change secretariat released an interesting legal note today laying out what will happen to the major legally-binding, global treaty in place to address the problem of global warming pollution beginning in 2013.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, countries have agreed to a “first commitment period” whereby most of the developed economies pledge to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. After 2012, these countries are no longer bound by their commitments and, theoretically, can start emitting greenhouse gases without regard to their global impact.
There were significant problems with Kyoto; namely, the emissions reductions targets are not adequate enough to stave off dramatic climatic change over the course of the next several decades and major emitters–like the United States, China, and India–are not currently covered by its provisions.
For the past several years, there have been two negotiating tracks going on to deal with Kyoto’ shortcomings. On the one hand, those countries who have ratified Kyoto have been negotiating to improve the treaty. But this track–the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties Under the Kyoto Protocol–excludes the United States and (currently) doesn’t ask big emitters like India and China to engage in legally-binding reductions.
The other negotiating track–the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action Under the Convention–does include the United States, China, India, and other major emitters. The second track was established in 2007 with the thought that some type of successor agreement to Kyoto would be negotiated and that there would be a seamless transition from the Kyoto Protocol to a new legally-binding agreement.
The second track hasn’t produced much progress, so there is quite a bit of confusion as to what will happen after 2012. Today’s note doesn’t lay out a very promising scenario.
Here are the highlights:
- If a second commitment period (with new emissions reductions numbers) is going to begin on 1 January 2013, a final text laying out those obligations really has to be completed by the December meeting in Cancun.
- Even if a text is agreed upon in December, it still needs to be informally accepted by three-fourths of the 143 countries which are party to the Protocol by 3 October 2012 and then ratified by domestic legislatures by the end of 2012. This is an EXTREMELY accelerated timetable.
- Parties could amend the Kyoto Protocol to make it easier for a second commitment period to go into force. They could create an “opt-out” clause where it is assumed the country will accept the commitment period unless they notify the UN. This might make it more politically viable for countries to sign on, but there still needs to be domestic buy-in before the treaty is legally-binding.
- There could be a “provisional” amendment to the protocol with new commitments, but until it is legally ratified, it is essentially voluntary.
- They could extend the first commitment period for a number of years. One problem with this is that many countries have expressed a political (not legal) commitment to limit global warming to a 2 degree rise from pre-industrial levels by 2050. Extending the first commitment emissions numbers won’t reach this goal. It would also require an amendment to the treaty, which still poses problems with getting the requisite number of countries to ratify before 2013.
None of these options look particularly promising. So what will happen in 2013?
- Emissions reductions targets will no longer be required.
- Countries will not have to submit reports to the UNFCCC on their emissions.
- Countries will not have to maintain a registry for emissions offsets–a key point for developing countries which can use financing under the treaty for low-carbon developing projects.
- Emissions trading markets could be disrupted
Essentially, you would have an entire architecture of emissions management–flawed as it is–fall apart.
This legal note was written to give negotiators guidance going into next month’s intersessional negotiations in Bonn. My sense is that it is a pretty dire document–we’ll see if negotiators think so as well in a couple of weeks.
Today marks the beginning of the first major international climate talks since last December’s meeting in Copenhagen. That meeting, of course, ended in a storm of controversy and uncertainty with the United States hailing its non-binding political declaration as a “breakthrough” and much of the rest of the world expressing disappointment that there was not a legally binding agreement to deal with the climate crisis.
The United States has always maintained that the Copenhagen Accord is a first step on the way (perhaps) to a legal agreement, but as the weeks proceed to the next major meeting scheduled for December in Cancun, there seems to be little movement.
In Bonn, the parties will be taking up an actual negotiating text that is supposed to serve as the basis for an agreement. However, the text does not come very close to resolving the key issues around the acceptable global temperature rise, greenhouse gas emissions reduction levels, which parties should reduce emissions, and the time line for reductions.
Additionally, the negotiations are still proceeding on two separate tracks–one involving the parties to the Kyoto Protocol (which excludes the US) that is trying to figure out how that agreement will function after the first phase of its implementation finishes in 2012 and another on “long term cooperative action” which includes the major emitters.
Fundamentally, the negotiations are at much the same stage as they were last year at this point. Given the fact that all of the major issues are still outstanding, it is unclear what sort of progress will be made in the next two weeks in Bonn.
The first of three informal negotiating sessions leading up to the UN talks in Copenhagen to develop a successor to the Kyoto Protocol wound up Friday with little progress.
UN climate head, Yvo de Boer concluded that the “action is not ambitious enough” on mitigation and that the ways to deal with adaptation in the developing world is not moving as quickly as needed. In order to get an agreement by December, de Boer said that “governments need to buckle down.”
US envoy, Jonathan Pershing said that “modest, but real progress” had been made, but also indicated that it will be a long road to meet the December deadline.
One disappointment was an inability to reduce the length of the current negotiating document. At 200 pages it is unwieldy, redundant, contradictory, and rather confusing in parts. Rather than paring the document down, the document will be enhanced by a new “toolbox” document. The toolbox will be prepared before the next negotiating session in Bangkok and will apparently give the delegates a better understanding of areas of convergence in the draft negotiating text.
It appears that some of the initial toolbox documents are already posted on the UN’s website.
Photo of Yvo de Boer: World Economic Forum
There are approximately 100 days left until the United Nations climate change talks begin in Copenhagen. In June negotiators met in Bonn to begin discussing the first draft of a possible successor to the Kyoto Protocol.
Yesterday marked the beginning of the first in a series of three week-long informal sessions to further develop a draft text. The delegates in Bonn have quite a challenge ahead of them. If my memory serves me, the June meetings began with a draft document of around 100 pages. After getting feedback from member nations, the current draft document ballooned to around 200 pages!
The document is so unwieldy that the UN Secretariat produced a “readers’ guide” [.pdf] for delegates to navigate the document. As a point of contrast, Michael Zammit Cutajar, the chair of the negotiating session, said yesterday that at the same point in the Kyoto negotiations the draft document was only around 20-30 pages.
The sheer size of the current text is emblematic of the difficulty of the task at hand and the distance between the parties before an agreement can be reached. Naturally, many players are getting frustrated. Yvo de Boer, the top UN climate official, said yesterday that he is “worried” at the lack of progress in advance of Copenhagen.
The pessimism was strengthened as New Zealand announced its mid-term emissions targets: cuts between 10-20% of 1990 levels by 2020. Under Kyoto, the country’s emissions were supposed to remain constant by 2012–but according to Reuters, emissions have actually increased by 24%.
Today informal groups are meeting on various topics related to the treaty, with a plenary session scheduled for tomorrow to update on progress.
Photo of Michael Zammit Cutajar (left) and Yvo de Boer: UNFCCC
The head of the UN climate change secretariat, Yvo de Boer, held a press conference yesterday to mark the halfway point of the Bonn talks. The meetings in Bonn are meant to make progress on a final global climate change agreement due to be signed in Copenhagen in December.
de Boer summed up the four points of “clarity” that he thinks are prerequisites for a final agreement:
Clarity on individual greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for industrialized countries
Clarity on what large developing countries (like China and India) will do to minimize the growth of their emissions
Clarity on financial support for developing countries on adaptation and mitigation
A governance structure for adaptation and mitigation aid that gives developing countries a voice in how money is spent.
It’s hard to disagree with de Boer’s analysis. At this point there is little clarity on any of these points, but perhaps as the week progresses some broad contours will be revealed.
Tomorrow US State Department climate change negotiator Todd Stern will head to Bonn to join the UN-sponsored climate change talks. The Bonn meeting is seen as a key step towards the goal of coming to an international agreement at Copenhagen in December.
On Wednesday Stern gave an address at the Center for American Politics that focused on China and the US-China relationship on the issue of climate change. During the Bush administration, the US essentially maintained that no global climate change agreement would be possible without China agreeing to significant emissions cuts. This position has basically been a non-starter with China given the fact that industrialized countries are responsible for the highest percentage of cumulative emissions and their current per capita levels of emissions outweigh those of developing countries such as China.
How the Obama administration is going to address the China issue, therefore, has been a matter of interest.
From Stern’s talk it is clear that the US is not going to demand absolute cuts from China. However, he pretty forcefully said that China can’t hide behind its old arguments, arguing that it is not in China’s interest to pursue a high-carbon form of development.
UN-sponsored climate change talks began on Monday in Bonn. The negotiations will last two weeks and represent a step on the path towards a final successor to the Kyoto agreement scheduled to be completed by December.
While the negotiations are underway many NGOs are highlighting the domestic positions of various countries. Yesterday, the Climate Action Network held a press conference to discuss the impending decision on levels of greenhouse gas emission reductions in Japan.