02 November, 2009

The Barcelona Opening: What can we expect from this game?

The Barcelona Climate Change Talks have opened today amid very mixed expectations. There still are some very clear divergences to tackle before a text for the Copenhagen agreement can be finally agreed upon.

Sergio Abranches

We are still far from a global climate agreement. There is consensus about what should be agreed upon for the deal not to fail: 1. binding targets for all industrialized countries on line with scientific requirements; 2. a clear commitment from major developing countries along the same lines; 3. a firm financial commitment by the developed world to fund mitigation and adaptation efforts in the developing world.

What to do about the Kyoto Protocol has also become an issue to be solved before a Copenhagen deal takes its final shape. Diplomatic discourse sometimes seem to be saying the same thing, when it is really saying different things. There is extensive disagreement between de Boer’s, the EU and the US positions on the future of the Kyoto Protocol.

At the opening press conference in Barcelona, today, UN top climate official, Yvo de Boer said that only the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is going to end by 2012. He expects a second period to be agreed upon.

This should be a task for the Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (MOP5), to take place at the same time COP15 will convene. For this second term to be effective, new commitments will have to be defined, and the US Congress would have to ratify Kyoto.

Asked whether Kyoto should be retained, de Boer argued that we should not “throw away the old shoes before getting a new pair.” However, de Boer asks for far more than an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, as a successful outcome for the Copenhagen Climate Summit. According to his statements, the Copenhagen deal should bring clarity of commitments, by defining clear targets and timetables for emissions reductions by the industrialized countries, and for major developing countries to reduce their emissions. These commitments would also require a managing mechanism, to be spelled out at the deal.

The European Union representative said that the Copenhagen deal should build on the Kyoto Protocol to set a 30% global target for emissions reductions. The deal should also include all sectors of the economy, set binding short-term targets for the industrialized countries, and mid-term targets for major developing countries.

Although there is a convergence between what the EU considers the necessary elements of a successful global climate deal, and Mr. de Boer’s own views, it seems the UN official is far more supportive of maintaining the Kyoto Protocol as a central part of the deal. Yvo de Boer’s new pair of shoes would be a more comprehensive global deal, that should definitely include the major developing countries. But he does think Kyoto should run parallel to this more encompassing treaty, because it has all the mechanisms necessary to enforce commitments by industrialized countries. Referring to the fact that the US was not a party to the Protocol he said that the US did sign the Protocol, although it did not ratify it. He stressed that one should not forget that at the time ratification failed relations between Congress and the US Presidency were under severe stress. Now he sees an intense constructive relationship between Congress and the Executive.

The European Union is not defending the persistence of the Kyoto Protocol along a second phase, but that it be used as a building block upon which a new treaty could be established. The new rules should retain Kyoto’s achievements but definitely go beyond it. That’s why the EU delegates say they “expect a second commitment period [of the Kyoto Protocol] to happen.” But they are clearly also expecting another set of binding commitments to engage emerging economies and to manage risks such as Russia’s oversupply of carbon credits. The best way to manage this risk would be to significantly raise Russia’s own emissions reductions figures. The EU also rejects the fairness argument major emerging countries have been using not to accept biding targets. The EU is far from being a homogeneous entity, they argued, and have countries as poor as Bulgaria, poorer than several major developing countries. Nevertheless they’ll have to comply with he EU targets. Spain is doing greater effort than more developed EU countries to meet its Kyoto targets, and is not saying this additional effort is unfair, one exemplified.

To governments like the Brazilian, rewriting Kyoto to create a new Annex for major developing countries such as Brazil, China, India, South Africa, and Mexico, would amount to abandoning it altogether. The Annex-I, non-Annex-I countries distinction, separating those having binding commitments, from those asked to voluntarily act, at their own pace, to reduce emissions is an issue of principle for diplomacies like the Brazilian.

The US government has been saying that Copenhagen to succeed has to move beyond the Kyoto Protocol. Although the US representative, Jonathan Pershing, did not mention Kyoto, he has stated that the US is committed to an ambitious agreement in Copenhagen. One that sets robust absolute reductions targets for industrialized countries, and mid-term significant reductions from major developing countries. They are proposing no commitments from least developed countries. They should only be asked to develop low carbon policies with financial and technical assistance of industrialized nations.

The US delegate to Barcelona has also said that the US is proposing a “text-based” agreement, dealing with operational issues. The US will not present a set of commitments different from what Congress is about to vote, he clarified. “We’re taking the opposite route”, he explained, the US will commit internationally with what will become effective domestic policy, with Congressional approval. It is obvious by now that the US will only take effective steps in Copenhagen if Congress votes the climate bill before. Pershing thinks this is still likely to happen, because the Senate is working faster now than some weeks ago, and an internal agreement is quite near.

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