Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lowering Expectations for UN Climate Negotiations

Conflicting positions are undermining efforts to find agreement on greenhouse gas reductions. Delegates at the recent climate talks in Bonn made no progress on binding targets to reduce carbon emissions, nor were they able to agree on a deal to replace the soon to expire Kyoto Protocol.

The climate change talks began with a document called "A Shared Vision for Long-Term Cooperative Action." The problem is, there is no shared vision and insufficient cooperative action. Delegates at the Bonn conference had to contend with a wide range of competing provisions.

Some less developed nations want to see developed nations assume their share of the carbon space. They argue that industrial countries have 16 percent of the world's population, but they occupy 74 percent of the carbon space. They further argue that each country’s historical carbon emissions should be taken into account. Although this would allow poorer countries with large populations to build their economies, wealthier nations have already dismissed the idea. A global deal to limit GHGs is also being impeded by China’s resistance to compliance monitoring.

As the world's largest economy and biggest producer of emissions, the lack of legislation in the US is another major impediment to progress on a climate change treaty. Although the recession and the vote for change inspired unprecedented international cooperation last year, the collaborative international mood was short-lived and has subsequently subsided.

Politically motivated misinformation has eroded American support for comprehensive climate and energy legislation and this has also dampened efforts to find agreement on a global climate change treaty.

Although last year’s Copenhagen Accord made some progress reducing emissions, the accord was never formally adopted and as such, it is non-binding. Developing nations appear to be reversing their positions by suggesting that their Copenhagen carbon reduction commitments were voluntary, while emissions targets for industrial countries are binding.

Tianjin, China will host a final preparatory meeting in October before the summit in Cancun, Mexico at the end of the year. Although we are unlikely to see a global treaty before the 2012 climate summit in South Africa, we can still see agreements on financial assistance and technology transfer.

The Kyoto Protocol is due to expire in 2012 and international disagreements obscure the urgency of binding agreements to manage climate change. Although some delegates have begun considering the possibility of extending the Kyoto Protocol until a replacement can be developed, we also need a binding agreement that addresses the rapidly growing emissions of developing countries.

For three years the world has unsuccessfully pursued an elusive formula that could pave the way for an international climate change treaty. Last year there were high expectations, this year, already low expectations have been lowered further still.

This article was originally published in GWIR on Wednesday 11 August 2010.

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