Old quarrels threaten new gains

Old arguments between industrialised and developing countries threaten to derail new gains in the attempt to tackle global warming as the annual UN climate summit at the Mexican beach resort Cancún enters its final week.

Old arguments between industrialised and developing countries threaten to derail new gains in the attempt to tackle global warming as the annual UN climate summit at the Mexican beach resort Cancún enters its final week.

There has been significant progress at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference on how to reduce deforestation and provide green technologies to developing countries. There has also been some movement on setting up a fund to help poor countries tackle the effects of climate change, though the fund still has no money and these countries are already facing global-warming impacts including reduced farming output and more frequent and severe droughts.

But with key industrialised countries led by Japan declaring they will not commit to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions after 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol in the face of fierce opposition from developing countries, there is a rising fear among the thousands of delegates from 192 countries gathered for the summit that all the advances will be blocked again, as they were at the Copenhagen summit last year.

China and India are among those insisting on rich-country pledges under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions after the current commitment period runs out in 2012. India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh met his counterparts from the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) on the sidelines of the summit on Sunday and told chinadialogue after the meeting that the group had “three non-negotiables – a clear and categorical statement on the second commitment period; disbursement of fast-start finance on a significant scale by mid-2011; and some mechanism to keep the dialogue on intellectual property rights (IPR) going. We know we won’t solve that problem here, but we need to keep discussing it.”

The second point Ramesh was referring to is the partial failure of rich countries to keep a key Copenhagen promise – to give poor countries US$30 billion between 2010 and 2012 to help tackle climate change. Just after his arrival here, he had declared his unhappiness because the United States has so far committed “only US$1.8 billion”. The European Union has committed 7.2 billion euros over the three-year period, but 48% of that is in loans and EU climate chief Connie Hedegaard’s clarification that these are “concessional one percent loans” has failed to appease governments in many poor countries.

The IPR issue has been holding up transfer of green technologies, but negotiators here have kept that aside and moved to form a mechanism by which non-patented technologies can be distributed to poor countries from a series of research laboratories around the world, including in China and India. This agreement and the one on forestry are ready, but they await the breaking of the logjam on the Kyoto Protocol and the rich countries’ insistence that actions taken by developing countries to move to a low-carbon economy must be “measurable, reportable and verifiable” (MRV).

For months, this has been stoutly opposed by developing countries, led by China, on the grounds that it impinges on sovereignty. India has recently proposed that this MRV be done by “international consultation and analysis” (ICA) rather than by any one country. This proposal has been welcomed by the US and the EU, and after a meeting with China’s vice minister for the National Development and Reform Commission Xie Zhenhua, Ramesh confirmed on Sunday that it had the support of the Chinese government.

But large emerging economies Brazil and South Africa are still unsure about it, while chief US negotiator Todd Stern has declared “transparency is an integral part of the balanced outcome” his government is looking for, and without which it will not make any commitment on anything. So apart from the Kyoto Protocol, MRV-ICA may be the second rock on which agreement at this summit founders.

Host government Mexico is trying to build on the advances. As the negotiators finalised a draft text of a Cancún agreement for the ministers who have started to arrive, Mexico’s foreign minister and president of the conference, Patricia Espinosa, said on Sunday: “The advances should be seen as a positive sign for the conference as a whole. I urge all Parties (countries) to sustain this spirit and bring all outstanding issues to a successful conclusion by the end of the Cancún climate-change conference, to reach a balanced agreement that will take the world into a new era of cooperative and increasingly ambitious action on climate change.”

Observers are worried that even if there is an agreement at Cancún, it will be too weak to tackle climate change effectively. A Greenpeace spokesperson pointed out that nothing had been done to bridge the gap between current emission-reduction pledges and what is needed to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius.

But the draft is being seen as better than nothing. Gordon Shepherd, head of WWF’s Global Climate Change initiative said: “The draft text provides a good basis for negotiation. We now look to governments to accept the text, so we can move out of process and into the substance of the negotiations…

“What is missing is a clear and formal recognition that there is a significant gap between current pledges and the goal, and this gap must be closed.  We would like to see a process in place immediately that looks at the gap and how to close it. We hope this can be made clearer here in Cancún that the ultimate goal of this review is to strengthen commitments to ensure that we reach our goals to limit warming.

“The issue of legal form is not addressed in the current text and needs to be. We want these negotiations to be about agreeing a legally binding treaty alongside a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol… The Kyoto Protocol is a binding agreement with a proven monitoring system that should not be thrown out of the window for a foggy alternative.”