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.
Today climate negotiators will meet in Barcelona to work through a series of “non papers” in the effort to make headway in advance of next month’s UN climate talks in Copenhagen.During the summer, the UN chief in charge of the negotiations, Yvo de Boer, had expressed confidence that a draft, 200 page, negotiating text hashed out during meetings in June could be pared down and made more simple in time for the December meeting. Unfortunately, if you try looking at the non-papers, you will quickly see that there is little agreement on emissions mitigation targets, which countries should be responsible for reducing emissions, how developing countries should be compensated for adaptation and low-carbon growth, and a host of other roadblocks.
Furthermore, stagnation in the US Senate could handcuff the United States, while key European countries (i.e. UK) are pushing for a “politically binding agreement” that could be a precursor to a larger treaty.
This is perhaps why the top international climate scientist, Rajendra Pachauri, is saying that “political myopia” is trumping scientific sensibilities and unnamed diplomats are calling this week’s meetings, “mission impossible.”
Still, there are interesting press reports from around the world expressing anticipation about the meetings:
- The Economic Times of India feels that India may be asked for concessions in the form of agreeing to reduction of emissions growth, but points out that issues of finance and technology transfer have been ignored by the developing world.
- The host of the Copenhagen talks, Danish Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard is rejecting the idea that a binding agreement can’t be hatched in next month, saying it makes no sense to delay a treaty.
- The Jakarta Post casts a pessimistic tone on Barcelona, although points out that Indonesian Prime Minister Yudhoyono has agreed to reduce his country’s emissions by 26% by 2020 and could reduce up to 41% with international financing. The Post suggests that this move by Yudhoyono could be the basis for bridging some of the divide that separates the developed and developing countries.
- Meanwhile, Australia is under pressure for wanting to expand the credit developed countries can get for carbon sinks in their countries. The threat is that Australia could technically meet its emissions obligations without actually reducing carbon fuel consumption.
- Finally, the less-than-enthusiastic Canadian government of Stephen Harper, is thankful that the US position at the negotiations is being complicated by Congress since it allows Harper and his Environment Minister Jim Prentice to sit back and do little negotiating themselves.