One of the main issues facing international climate negotiators is how to deal with the Kyoto Protocol. Two years ago in Bali, negotiators established two negotiating tracks–one that looks at what a second “commitment period” of the Kyoto Protocol would look like and another track that looks at “long-term cooperative action.”
The main reason for establishing the two tracks was to bring opponents of Kyoto (namely, the United States) into a constructive discussion without requiring them to commit to Kyoto’s legally-binding emissions reduction elements. Kyoto’s first commitment period ends in 2012 and in 2007, when this negotiating strategy was developed, it was thought that there would be enough time to provide more clarity by the 2009 deadline.
Well, here we are in 2009 and there is no clarity. Now with quite a bit at stake and a recognition that key bridging of differences has been proceeding at a snail’s pace, many players are trying to salvage the process by predicting a “politically binding” commitment to be worked out in Copenhagen.
A politically binding commitment would differ from a legally binding commitment (such as the Kyoto Protocol) to the extent that there would be no force of law to insure that emissions reductions would be implemented.
Today, Tove Ryding of Greenpeace-Denmark gave a strong rebuke to her country’s Prime Minister for predicting a “politically binding” agreement. Unfortunately, other political figures are using the term–including UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon.
Developing countries, however, are insistent that the legally binding force of the Kyoto Protocol be continued with China unequivocally endorsing its continuation and a group of African countries actually shutting down the negotiations yesterday in frustration.
The problem with a politically binding commitment coming out of Copenhagen is that it won’t be enforceable, likely be ineffective, and stall action on the issue.