10 March, 2010

Climate diplomacy: Copenhagen versus Kyoto

Now that China and India have formally adhered to the Copenhagen Accord, climate diplomacy has two different ways to go. And they’re not comparable, nor totally compatible.

Sergio Abranches

The Copenhagen Accord has become the most representative global climate political agreement since the Framework Convention on Climate Change, that entered into force on 21, March, 1994. It now has the formal adhesion of more than 100 countries, including all large carbon emitters of the world, except Russia, amounting to more than 80% of global GHG emissions. But it has no legal force. It depends entirely on the signatories’ willingness to hold to their promised emissions reductions.

The convention is, as its name says, a legal framework, not an operational treaty. The legal operational instrument is the Kyoto Protocol, signed on December, 11, 1997, but coming into force only on 16, February, 2005. The U.S. has never ratified it. The large emerging economies, China, India, and Brazil, have no obligations under the protocol. Only “Annex I Countries” have binding emissions reduction targets. Targets for the period of 2008-2012 were set too low: ~ 5% of 1990 global emissions. Although legally binding, the Protocol has no mechanism of enforcement. The legal consequence of Annex I countries’ noncompliance is unclear.

The Kyoto Protocol has broad support among environmentalists and G77 governments because it is legally binding. Legally binding, it is. Politically representative, it is not. Its targets are too small to make a difference, and there has been no agreement so far on its second commitment period.

The Copenhagen Accord is operational, although not legally binding. Its targets represent around 20% of 1990 global emissions to 2020. They are at least five percentage points below what would be necessary to barely meet the 2oC limit. The U.S. pledge is far too low, representing a reduction of no more than 5% of its 1990 emissions to 2020.

The history of the major BASIC countries’ (China, India, and Brazil) formal support to the Accord is yet to be told. They’ve initially registered their voluntary targets, without formally and explicitly supporting the accord. The first Brazilian letter, confirming the country’s mitigation actions, was rather ambiguous about the country’s association to the Accord. Afterwards the government has sent a second letter stating its formal support more clearly. It took more time for India and China to follow suit. This delay has to do with Post-Copenhagen political discussions about the Copenhagen Accord between the BASIC countries and their unsupportive G77 partners. At the end of the day, the fact that the BASIC countries were among the Accord’s major brokers has prevailed.

India’s Environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, explained to the Parliament that the decision to officially support the Accord was taken “after careful consideration”. Reuters reports that he told MPs that: “we believe that our decision (…) reflects the role India played in giving shape to the Copenhagen Accord.”

The U.S. sees the Copenhagen Accord as the only way towards a future full climate treaty. Todd Stern, chief U.S. climate envoy has said on several occasions that his country will not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. He also said the Obama Administration would like the Copenhagen Accord to guide talks on a new treaty. The United States has urged further formalization of the Accord at the next major U.N. climate meeting in Cancún, Mexico, Reuters reports.

G77 countries, including the BASIC, consider the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol as a sine qua non to any further deals.

Climate diplomacy has, now, two ways to go. One would be to work towards a new Protocol to substitute Kyoto, having the Copenhagen Accord as a starting point. To achieve that, the G77 would have to be persuaded to abandon the Kyoto Protocol. The other way would be to adopt the “two-track” solution. This track requires the agreement on  a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, and the legal formalization of the Copenhagen Accord in Cancun, at COP16 or, more likely, at COP17, in South Africa, in 2011.

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