Blogging Durban: Weekend Edition

Categories: Climate Change, Durban COP-17, International Relations

This is going to be a two-fer, covering relevant new stuff from Saturday and Sunday.  I didn’t update on Saturday, because 1) it’s Saturday, and; 2) See 1).  So, right now, the issues covered here are the Strategic Body on Implementation (SBI) meeting today, to discuss carrying out the Cancún Agreements, and the UNFCCC’s half time status update.

The Quixotic Enterprise: the KP is Dead

COP-17 President, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, starts off noting that we are at the halfway mark, reiterating confidence in – at a minimum – moving forward on the Report of the Transitional Committee of the GCF.

The Chair of the AWG-KP looks so sad.  He says the body is still working towards a second commitment period, asserting that there is among the Parties, “…common ground on the need to work towards continuity,” thus avoiding an implementation gap (if not an emissions gap).  This seems to contradict directly, with the positions of the Umbrella Group, at the very least.  Of course, just in case anyone thought he was pollyanna-ish, he notes that “…ratification with entry into force by 1 January 2013 is not achievable.”  Further, for Annex I “…provisional application does not seem possible either.” So, we can officially forget about a binding agreement starting in 2013.

So, how to get continuity?  The Chair notes that Parties to the AWG-KP have proposed, variously, a “two stage process,” where Parties take a Decision, then pass amendments to the KP later, to be ratified as a second stage; 2) A Decision-only outcome, without an Amendment; 3) Parties adopt unilateral Declarations.  These last two in particular “…would not involve amendments to the KP and ratification.”  While noting that this would lead to reliance on voluntary commitments, at least in the next few years, he observed that pushing for a binding regime here would lead to “…locking in low ambition.”

“We Haven’t Agreed to Anything”

The Chair of the SBI starts off by saying that he is “optimistic” about the direction of the conference, and the possibility of implementing the Cancún Agreements.  However, in discussing one of the draft documents for the Agreements dealing with Least Developed Country commitments (PDF), he says the Parties will “bracket the entire document,” noting that “…we haven’t agreed to anything.” The US delegate noted that this would create, in a very diplomatic phrasing, “time management problems,” but along with Bangladesh and Gambia, supported the motion.

Already heavily bracketed, the document contains some of the politically contentious elements that could come into play, if Parties are serious about getting a globally covering regime (as opposed to one covering just the top 12 emitters), including: 1) institutionalizing financial and technical assistance to the poorest countries; 2) monitoring mitigation practices in LDCs; 3) the role of the GCF.  What makes this a bad sign as well, is that the 48 LDCs, as defined by the UN (i.e., not including China and India), comprise only 2% of world GDP, and a correspondingly small share of global GHG emissions.  A gridlock here does not bode well for including China, India, the US, Canada and the EU under a new agreement in the near future.

Fairness and Obligations

Anyway, at present, the debate is clearly at a stalemate.  Japan, the US, and the rest of the Umbrella Group keep talking about the issue of fairness: the LDCs (especially China) need to take action.  The G-77 + China, also talk about fairness, but say that the historical responsibility of the HICs to current carbon accumulation means the poor countries are off the hook.  Thus, while Japan is now pushing for a new working group to deal with a new protocol – thus, doing away with the mission AWG-KP – the chances of a new agreement soon (e.g., by 2014) remain really, really low.

Conditionality, Soft-Law, and Cancún

There is another way to think about the problem of the lack of cooperation here: the US has taken the position that the Cancún Agreements are an adequate approach (at least in the immediate short term) to addressing international commitments to combating climate change.  At first glance, even with knowledge about the Emissions Gap at hand, the Agreements sound pretty ambitious.  Let’s take a look at some of the more optimistic scenarios projected by major economies and emitters in Annex I (PDF) and non-Annex I commitments (PDF) alike.:

  • The US and Canada pledged a cut in the range of 17% from 2005 levels by 2020, and the US promised 30% by 2025.
  • Russia and Japan pledged 20 – 25% below 1990 levels by 2020
  • Australia pledged 25% below 2000 by 2020
  • The EU pledged 30% below 1990 by 2020
  • China and India committed only to making their economies more energy efficient, in China’s case, by lowering its CO2e emissions per unit of GDP by 40%; in India’s case by 25% (not including agriculture)
  • Brazil projected that specific actions (including limiting deforestation) would reduce emissions in 2020 to 36 – 39% below what they would have been normally.

Granted, these are non-binding and, particularly in the case of China and India, Parties are stressing the fact that these are voluntary agreements.*  The problem is that the Japanese, EU, Australian, and other commitments not covered here, are conditional: that is, the Parties have included language indicating that their actions will only be taken if there is (depending on who you talk to): a “global deal,” a “global and comprehensive agreement,” or a “fair and comprehensive international framework” and the undertaking of “legally binding obligations” by “all major emitters” or “all major economies.”  !!!

Without such a deal, the Parties listed above will either take no action, or take action that falls short of the comparatively ambitious goals.

*NB: Though voluntary, presumably domestic and transnational activists, as well as international actors, can use these commitments as means of shaming.  If Parties fostered activities that violated any possible interpretation of these goals – say, by funding the exploitation of tar sands oil – then Parties could be subjected to moral, social and diplomatic pressure from domestic and global actors, and a loss of political prestige (PDF).  Presumably, that would work as a quasi-enforcement mechanism.

About Kemi Fuentes-George

I am a professor in environmental studies and political science at Middlebury College.