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Saving Planet from climate terror and ‘procedural equity’ in second commitment period

Written By Krishna on Thursday, December 13, 2012 | 2:18 AM

The opening sentence of Eduardo Galeano’s book reads: “the division of labor among nations is that some specialize in winning and others in losing” best describes the outcome of the climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar that concluded on December 8, 2012. This sentence of the book Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent published in 1971 is not only about the corporate onslaught on South America but also about the veins and arteries of the developing countries in the Global South.

When compassionate diplomats like the lead negotiator of the Philippines delegation, Naderev Saño or Lumumba Di-Aping, the chief negotiator for the G77 countries cry during climate negotiations for saving humanity from engineered natural calamities like cyclones and typhoons, their tears underline the division of labor between the nations.  

Amidst the fear of collapse, the eighteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 18) to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) during November 26 - December 8, 2012 in Doha, Qatar adopted many inadequate decisions, including on the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period in which developed countries committed to cut their emissions. The Protocol was adopted exactly fifteen years ago in Kyoto, Japan on December 11. It entered into force on February 16, 2005. So far 193 countries have ratified it.

While the ratification by the developed countries is a procedural acknowledgment of their historical irresponsibility, there isn’t any reversal from the industrial path that has pushed humanity to the precipice. It is making even developing countries pursue the same myopic and self destructive European and American path of blind industrialization, urbanization, financialization and consumerism.       

By the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 linked to the UNFCCC of 1992 in 2012, there was a dire need for a new international framework to be negotiated and ratified. This was required to deliver the stringent emission reductions recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The UNFCCC encouraged industrialized countries to stabilize emissions; the Protocol commits them to do so.

In its first commitment period, the Protocol set binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for being principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 250 years of industrial activity. These amounted to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the first commitment period during 2008-2012.

The procedural gain from Doha is that there was a formal adoption of the Protocol’s second commitment period during 2013- to 2020 after the first commitment period expires on December 31, 2012. The aggregate 25-40% reduction goal is envisaged to be revisited by 2014.

The Protocol, as the only existing and binding agreement under which developed countries commit to cutting greenhouse gases, has been amended so that it will continue as of 1 January 2013. Governments have decided that the length of the second commitment period will be 8 years. This amendment to the Protocol pursuant to its Article 3, paragraph 9 requires ratification by 3/4 of the countries which are parties to the Protocol.

Governments have launched a new commitment period under the Protocol and agreed on a firm timetable to adopt a universal climate agreement by 2015. They agreed to deliver scaled-up climate finance and technology to developing countries. Indeed the developed world has the money and technology to keep the planet below two degrees but it does not have the political will. It has been agreed to speedily work toward a universal climate change agreement covering all countries from 2020, to be adopted by 2015 so that the world can stay below the agreed maximum 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise. The elements of a negotiating text will be available no later than the end of 2014, so that a draft negotiating text is available before May 2015. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would convene world leaders in 2014 to mobilize the political will to help ensure that the 2015 deadline is met.

The Republic of Korea has been selected as the location of the Green Climate Fund which is expected to be launched in 2014. Developed countries have reiterated their commitment to mobilize 100 billion USD both for adaptation and mitigation by 2020. Germany, the UK, France, Denmark, Sweden and the EU Commission announced concrete finance pledges in Doha for the period up to 2015, totaling approximately 6 billion US Dollars.

It has been claimed that a pathway has been established towards concrete institutional arrangements to provide the most vulnerable populations with better protection against loss and damage caused by slow onset events such as rising sea levels. 
Instead of learning from the failure of the carbon trade, sadly new market mechanisms has been agreed to further elaborate the new market-based mechanism under the UNFCCC and for recognizing mechanisms established outside the UNFCCC, such as nationally-administered or bilateral offset programmes, and to consider their role in helping countries to meet their mitigation targets. Despite the questionable nature of Carbon Capture and Storage, it continues to find mention under Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The Protocol’s Market Mechanisms – the CDM, Joint Implementation and International Emissions Trading will continue as of 2013. There was no concrete outcome with regard to enabling the development and transfer of technologies for helping developing countries to adapt and curb their emissions.

The Doha Conference has emerged with documents titled The Doha Climate Gateway that provide for an eight year extension of the Protocol until 2020 but is limited in scope to only 15% of the global emissions due to the non-involvement of countries like Canada, Japan, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, New Zealand and USA. Notably, USA, Canada Afghanistan, Andorra and South Sudan have not ratified the Protocol as yet.

Motivated insincerity of countries like USA was revealed quite early at the Doha negotiations to lower ambitions about the outcome when instead of complying with the equity principles enshrined in the UNFCCC in letter and spirit, the US negotiator argued for procedural equity as approved by US Congress. This was akin to taking countries for a ride through it dilution of the Protocol at the time of its negotiation by its introduction of carbon trade in it. Notwithstanding US President Barack Obama reference to threat to future generations from “the destructive power of a warming planet" in his victory speech on November 7, 2012, and despite the indulgence shown to US in climate negotiations from the very outset, it chooses to remain a non-party to the Protocol. Notably, Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez had gifted Eduardo Galeano’s book to President Obama when both met for the first time.

In effect, outcome of Doha is procedural that does not provide genuine remedial responses to the crises ridden planet. The ultimate objective of both the treaties is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that prevents dangerous human interference with the climate system. The objective remains unfulfilled.

The nineteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 19) of UNFCCC will take place in Warsaw, Poland, at the end of 2013 to finish the unfinished task of making developed countries pay their climate debt and ensure just legal remedy. Will Warsaw succeed where Doha failed in efforts to deliver substantive rather than procedural gateway to climate justice? 

Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
New Delhi        
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