Kyoto pact in the balance in UN climate endgame

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President Barack Obama arrives in Copenhagen today (18 December) for the final day of the UN climate conference on a positive note, after the US pledged to contribute to international climate aid. EURACTIV reports from the Danish capital.

On Thursday (17 December), US State Secretary Hilary Clinton said the US would contribute to a fund of $100 billion a year (€69.8 billion) until 2020 to help poorer countries tackle climate change and adopt cleaner energy.

But she insisted the aid would be tied to the imposition of monitoring, reporting and verification requirements on China and other large developing countries regarding their emissions curbs. China has resisted such calls, saying they violate its sovereignty.

A draft declaration for the Copenhagen summit committed rich countries to donating $100 billion dollars annually by 2020 in climate aid for the developing world, Reuters reported. It also said global temperature rises must not exceed two degrees Celsius.

Meanwhile, the European Union and Japan have already committed 10 and 15 billion dollars respectively to a so-called ‘fast-start’ funding to aid the developing world in the period 2010-2012(EURACTIV 11/12/09).

Pressure on US and China

Commenting on the US pledge, Swedish Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren welcomed the move but said the job was not done yet. “We will need other steps to make sure that we can create the needed political momentum,” he stressed, arguing that the US and China – the world’s two biggest polluters – need to come up with legally-binding commitments to reduce their emissions.

“It is about them. If the US and China are not prepared to deliver legally-binding commitments, half of the Earth’s emissions will not be covered by a legal agreement. Without them we cannot solve the climate problem,” Carlgren said.

José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said on Thursday (17 December) that he expected the United States would raise its offer to cut climate-warming emissions. “I really expect them to announce something more,” Barroso told reporters. “President Obama is not coming just to reiterate what is in their draft legislation.”

Barroso had called for some “flexibility” in the EU’s position, suggesting that the Union could improve its offer by committing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020 and 30% by 2030. 

The EU has unilaterally committed to cutting its emissions by 20% on 1990 levels by 2020. The bloc said it would raise this target to 30% “if other developed parts of the world make the same kind of contribution” and developing nations such as China commit to emissions reductions “beyond business as usual”.

Keeping Kyoto alive

In Copenhagen, world leaders will decide whether to keep the 1997 Kyoto Protocol or build a new international treaty. 

Ricardo Lagos, a former president of Chile and special advisor on climate change to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the 1997 Kyoto pact held the key to the Copenhagen talks.

“If we want an agreement, we need to find a way to keep Kyoto alive,” he told EURACTIV.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force in 2005, commits its 183 signatories to reducing their collective greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% by 2012 from 1990 levels.

But developing nations, led by China, warned against attempts to kill the treaty, which was never ratified by the United States, the key emitter of the industrialised world. They are insisting on maintaining a “two-track” outcome, of which Kyoto is an essential part (EURACTIV 17/12/09).

Last year, it became clear that the principles of the Kyoto Protocol and the responsibilities it sets for developed and developing countries could not be changed, stressed Lagos, arguing that no deal is possible without getting major emitters such as the United States and China on board. 

“The European Union and Japan have come up with ambitious programmes. It is clear that Kyoto is going to remain,” he said.

Nevertheless, things have changed since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, admitted Lagos. “You did not have the G20 ten years ago. China and India are part of the G20 and they should share part of the responsibility now. The question is how, without violating the principles of the Kyoto Protocol,” he added, underlining that the historic responsibilities of industrialised countries should be maintained.

Making Chinese pledges legally-binding

The question now, Lagos said, is how to make voluntary emissions reduction pledges by the developing world legally binding over time.

For two weeks, envoys from 193 countries meeting in Copenhagen have been trying to find common ground on the remaining stumbling blocks before a post-Kyoto agreement can be secured. But they have failed because of divisions over how much financial aid to give to poor nations and whether China and India should have their promises to cut carbon measured and verified by international auditors. 

“I think the only way is to allow them to make commitments on a voluntary basis under the ‘Nationally-appropriate Mitigation Actions’, the so-called NAMAs,” Lagos said, stressing however that those plans could later become legally-binding, making commitments made by developing countries comparable to those made by their developed counterparts.

“If a substantial number of mitigation actions are proposed by rapidly emerging economies and middle-income countries, it is possible that these [could] become binding,” he said, explaining that this may happen once the collective plans have reached a sufficient level of emissions.

China’s action plan to boost energy efficiency and increase the share of renewables in its energy mix by 15% is one proposal that could be put on the table. Even the US, which did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, could be allowed to make voluntary pledges, said the former Chilean president.

“If you consider that the actual legislation being considered in the US Congress may be a NAMA then it would become legally binding if others make similar proposals,” Lagos added. 

A lot of rapidly emerging economies and middle-income countries do not qualify for foreign aid, including Brazil, Chile, Peru and Columbia, he said. Under current plans, climate aid and technology transfer would be allowed only under the condition that mitigation plans financed by external sources are subject to a verification mechanism from the international community.

US money comes with strings attached

This was also the message delivered yesterday by US State Secretary Hillary Clinton, who promised the US would help raise $100 billion annually by 2020 to assist poor countries in coping with climate change as long as countries allow international scrutiny over how the money is spent.

China and India are opposed to this, saying it violates their sovereignty. But the US is pressuring the two major emitters to accept binding commitments that are open to international inspection and verification.

“There must be a will for transparency. If there isn’t, the possibility of reaching an agreement is dead. We have said this repeatedly,” Clinton said.

At the same time, Clinton repeated the US position that China cannot hide behind its status as a developing nation. China, Clinton said, is the world’s biggest CO2 emitter and will one day become the world’s largest economy, justifying calls for clear and verifiable targets for greenhouse gas reductions. 

Clinton, however, has remained vague on fast-start money aimed at helping developing countries until 2012. US envoy Todd Stern said America would accept its fair share if an agreement is reached. 

Free ride for African countries

Answering a question on what would be acceptable for African countries, Lagos stressed that they are neither considered rapidly emerging nor middle-income countries and all of them qualify for foreign aid. 

“All that means that African countries will have a free ride,” he said.

US arrives late at the party

The UN special envoy accepted US President Barack Obama’s decision to arrive late at the party, noting that the country had changed its position on climate change completely. But it still is in a transitional period.

“Obama says he can’t achieve ambitious targets by 2020, but he is confident that he will catch up by 2030 and be on an equal footing with the European Union,” the former Chilean president said, stressing that developing countries are also in a transitional phase. “But everyone knows that after 2020, we will all need to tackle emissions.”

Confident that a deal will be reached at the closure of the conference today (18 December), Lagos and his colleague Festus Mogae, a former president of Botswana and also a UN special envoy for climate change, told EURACTIV that world leaders cannot return to their own countries empty-handed.

“If they want to have something, I think they have to give something,” said Lagos.

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The European Union expressed concern over the lack of progress in the negotiations. "We encourage all parties to urgently go to the outer limits of their flexibility so that talks can move forward," said the European Commission in a statement. 

"The European Union has put concrete proposals on the table and maintains its conditional offer to do more, if others, especially the major emitters, improve their offers as well," it said.

"A failure in Copenhagen would be catastrophic for each of us," warned French President Nicolas Sarkozy during a plenary session of the UN talks. "All of us, we will have to account for our actions to world public opinion, and our national public opinion."

ActionAid, the  development agency,  said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's $100 billion pledge to combat climate change lacks crucial details to give it credibility among developing countries in Copenhagen. "The US finally has a plan for long-term climate finance but it doesn't stipulate how much of that is public money and what the US will contribute towards this goal," said Ilana Solomon, ActionAid's US climate expert. 

Nevertheless, it is the first time that the US has proposed a global total for long-term climate finance and it is broadly comparable to the EU's figure, Solomon said. In the EU proposal, no more than half of the money would come from international public funding, she noted, adding that the US pledge may be similar. 

"Developing countries require at least $200 billion in public money by 2020 to cut their emissions and adapt to climate change. While private investment will play a supplementary role in reducing emissions, public finance is needed to enable the most vulnerable communities to adapt to its impacts," said Solomon. 

Based on past emissions and ability to pay, ActionAid calculates that the USA's fair share is roughly 40% of the $200 billion total.

"For the first time the US has publicly stated support for long-term global funding for developing world adaption and mitigation to climate change," said Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace.

"It's good news that discussions on climate cash have finally got moving after two long years of delay but this needs to be the start of the conversation – not the end," said Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International

"$100bn is half the amount poor countries need to reduce their emissions and adapt to a changing climate. The money must come from public sources - not be subject to the whims of the markets - and it must not be diverted from existing aid promises. Poor countries will still need to build schools and hospitals – as well as flood defences," Hobbs said. 

Oxfam is calling for rich countries to provide at least $200bn a year in new money to help poor countries adapt to the changing climate and reduce their emissions.

Almost 120 prime ministers, presidents and vice-presidents from nations accounting for 89% of the world's gross domestic product began meetings yesterday (17 December) to reach agreement on how to tackle global warming.

Developing countries are calling on industrialised nations to raise their pledges on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 25-40% from 1990 levels by 2020. They are also asking for funding to help them adapt to the damaging effects of climate change and embark on a low-carbon development path.

Rich nations such as the United States, on the other hand, are finding it difficult to agree on ambitious mid-term targets for 2020. In the EU's case, it is promising to up its offer only if other developed nations commit to measures similar to its existing commitment of cutting emissions by 20% by 2020.

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