26 November 2011

CoP 17: What will be achieved, and what to expect?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) published its agenda for the COP 17 on 19th September 2011. The current agenda has changed little since the COP 16 in Cancun in 2010 and the COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009

By: Asha Naznin | Climate Change Media Partnership | November 21st, 2011
The agenda reflects the underlying politics of global powers which recognises that reducing emissions might mean a country’s economy might grow more slowly. In the current global economic crisis the interlinkages between emission reduction and economic growth will make any progress on emission reduction a hard sell for politicians and governments back home, even though the temperature of the planet is projected to continue to rise. According to the IPCC 2007 Fourth Assessment Report, the average surface temperature of the Earth is likely to increase anywhere from 1.5 to 6.1°C by the end of this century.

Most of the political and media focus will be on China and USA who are not only the top two carbon dioxide emitters of the world (according to International Energy Agency 2008 report) but are also competing to be the lead global economic power.

However, India could also come under the spotlight in Durban because under a ‘Unilateral Trade Measures’ proposal the Indian government has, prior to this agenda, cautioned that the COP should prohibit countries from engaging in unilateral trade in the context of mitigation.

India proposes that;

developed countries parties shall not resort to any form of unilateral measures, including tariff and non fiscal border trade measures, against goods and services from developing country parties on any grounds related to climate change, including protection and stabilization of climate, emission leakage and/or cost of environment compliance ….”

This year at the COP India will also make the following proposals:

  1. accelerated access to critical mitigation and adaptation technologies and related intellectual property rights; and
  2. equitable access to sustainable development.

With India making these challenging proposals, the COP could witness tension among the BASIC countries— Brazil, South Africa, India and China, which is also known as the ‘G4’.  These four powerful countries formed the G4 bloc at Copenhagen in 2009 during COP 15 with a strong commitment to stay together and even to walk out together if their common demand was ignored by developed countries. With South Africa as host this year, reaching a consensus within the G4 will not be an easy task. If G4 countries oppose the USA and EU-27 countries at the negotiation table, then the pressure will be on South Africa. Will it support the G4 position and walk out, or veto proposals with China, India and Brazil?

There is also pressure anticipated between developing and developed countries regarding the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012. This international agreement which was adopted in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997 is linked to the UNFCCC. The Kyoto Protocol set binding targets for 37 industrialised countries and the European Community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These amount to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.

While the UNFCCC encouraged industrialised countries to stabilize GHG emissions, the Kyoto Protocol commits them to do so. Here, the race is again between the USA and the rising economic powers of developing countries. Among Annex 1 developed countries, only the USA didn’t ratify Kyoto, arguing that major industrialised developing countries such as India, China and Brazil need to face an emission cap as well. These countries respond by saying the US position is not fair on them because millions of their people are still deprived and are struggling to attain a minimum level of access to energy.

On 12th October 2011, The Guardian newspaper in the UK stated that “if Kyoto dies in Durban, it will be a death knell for the climate fight.” Canada, Japan and Russia have already declared that they will not commit to a second phase of emission reductions under the Kyoto Protocol. However developing countries are keen for developed countries to pledge to further commitments and emission restrictions.

In addition to the politics of carbon and the economic race, the politics of funding distribution could be another agenda item that could cause controversy at Durban. The creation of the Green Climate Fund was an important outcome at the COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico, last year.  This fund is intended to finance climate change action, both adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. However the question remains; how should this money – $100 billion USD per year – be disbursed and managed by 2020? This will be one of the greatest challenges to deal with at Durban.

Developing countries oppose any involvement of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) – a profit-making, independent financial organization – in distributing the money, whereas the EU and USA prefer the money to be administered by the GEF.

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