Monday, December 13, 2010

WikiLeaks: Kyoto Protocols to be abolished?

Agreement. Accord. Protocol. What’s the difference and why does it matter? Firstly, there is a difference. An Accord is not a Protocol. And secondly, signing up to one commits you to a lot more than signing up to another. Like the difference between an ‘engagement’ and a ‘marriage’, words can make all the difference.
In the world of Climate Change diplomacy, there are four types of ‘agreements’: a “Convention”, “Protocols”, an “Accord”, and an “Agreement”. It started in 1988 when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was first established to look into the problem. A large number of scientific reports sounded the alarm and in 1992 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This “Framework Convention” is an international environmental agreement aimed at stabilising Greenhouse Gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous man-made interference with the climate system. The convention is a legal framework, not an operational treaty. The legally binding document is the Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997. To date 191 countries have signed and ratified it. Under the Protocols, 34 developed countries agree to bring down their emissions of gasses by certain amounts by certain times. The rest of the countries have no targets, based on the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities." The parties agreed that:
1. the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases originated in developed countries;
2. per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low;
3. the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet social and development needs.
The US has never ratified Kyoto. (Up until recently it was the world’s biggest emitter. China now has that honour.) The large emerging economies, China, India, and Brazil, have no obligations under the protocol. The nations gathered at Copenhagen in 2009 hoping they could get the big emitters to agree to set emissions reductions targets and be bound by them under the Protocols. The talks collapsed and from out of the wreckage a small group of nations – including America, China, and India – produced what they called an “Accord”, which is not legally binding. Nations signing the Accord pledge to meet targets and report on their progress voluntarily. But there was to be no legal obligation and no external auditing. We now know, thanks to Wikileaks, that America and China colluded together to ensure the talks failed because neither wants to be committed to targets under the Protocols. The delegates at Copenhagen did not ratify the Accord; they merely ‘noted’ it. Many were angry that the big emitters made their own arrangement and called it an “Accord”. However, to date, more than 100 nations have signed on, representing 80% of global emissions.
Which leads us to the Cancun “Agreement”. It contains much that was in the Accord, but this time the delegates have voted for it. The Cancun Agreement is important because for the first time the world’s 2 biggest emitters – China and USA - have committed to emissions targets. And for the first time the Agreement includes pledges from developing nations, who had no obligations under the Kyoto protocol. The Agreement formalises the pledges made in the aftermath of last year's failed Copenhagen talks. Crucially it did not tie developed nations to legally binding emissions cuts after the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012. Russia and Japan would not accept new targets under the protocol. They claimed it was unfair if other major polluters such as China and the US did not accept such targets.
Which means what? It means realpolitik will always decide international affairs. The big emitters are also the big economies and the big military powers. As they say, when the elephants dance the ants get off the dance floor. No amount of moral rectitude and finger wagging by Tuvalu or Friends of The Trees was ever going to bring the US to heel. Kyoto was impossible when Obama controlled numbers in Congress. Now it is even less likely. To get the Cacun Agreement signed, a decision on extending Kyoto after the 2nd compliance period runs out in 2012 was put off until 2011. Given America’s attitude, it doesn’t look good for the Protocols.
America’s chief climate envoy Todd Stern said several time before Cancun that his country will not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The Obama Administration wanted the Copenhagen Accord to guide talks on a new treaty and urged further formalization of the Accord at Cancun – which is exactly what happened. Next year’s meeting in South Africa could see a new Protocol to substitute Kyoto, having the Copenhagen Accord as a starting point, according to Sergio Abranches, ecoblogger.

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