Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 10 June 2013

Malaysia takes lead role in climate talks

As a new round of climate talks take place in Bonn, Malaysia is coordinating the G77 in the Durban Platform, insisting that developing countries’ rights are respected


The latest round of global climate negotiations are taking place in Bonn, with countries grappling with the core issues of whether developed and developing countries should take on similar or different obligations to cut Greenhouse gas emissions, how to adapt to the effects of climate change, and who is going to fund the actions.

Malaysia has emerged as one of the important countries in these important talks, as it assumed a leadership role among developing countries.

Its representative Dr. Gary Theseira was appointed the coordinator of the Group of 77 and China (G77) for the work of the Durban Platform. Under this Platform, a new agreement is being negotiated on climate actions and the funds and technology required.

Since climate change is seen by scientists as posing the gravest threat to humanity as well as Nature, the Durban Platform is the venue for perhaps the most important talks taking place today.

Dr. Theseira, deputy head of the Environment Management and Climate Change division in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, was appointed by the G77 to be its Coordinator in the Durban Platform working group.

The G77 is the largest group in the United Nations, including in the UN Climate Change Convention, as it represents more than 130 countries, and is recognised as the voice of the developing countries.

At the Durban Platform meeting on 5 June, Malaysia spoke for the G77, making three points:

  • The work of the Platform should be based on the Climate Convention’s principles, provisions and related commitments and responsibilities on mitigation, adaptation and the means of implementation;
  • There should not be a reinterpretation or rewriting of the Convention, and
  • The outcome must be in accordance with the Convention’s objective, principles and provisions, including the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR).

Major developed countries are trying to change the foundation of the Convention, wanting to have all countries to be treated in the same way. 

The Convention’s CBDR principle, in contrast, says that rich countries have more obligations because of their historical responsibility (having put most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) and their higher economic level.  

By stressing that the new agreement has to reflect the Convention’s principles, Theseira was reiterating the G77’s insistence that rich and poor countries must be treated differently, and the group’s refusal to give in to the developed countries’ pressures.

Besides the G77, Malaysia is also a key player in the recently formed like-minded group of developing countries (LMDC), which has taken clear positions on all important issues. The LMDC comprises about 20-25 countries, including China, India, Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Mali, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, El Salvador.  

Malaysia has announced its intention to reduce by 40% the emissions intensity of its GNP by the year 2020.  But this is conditioned on its receiving funds and technology to help the country to do so.

Many developing countries have likewise made plans and targets to cut their emissions, and to also prepare for deal with the effects of climate change, such as more intense floods, storms and sea level rise.

But they are being pressured to do more, first by preparing a report of their actions every two years, and second by making semi-binding pledges of their actions.

However, the developed countries are not living up to their own commitments.  The pledges they have made are only to cut their overall emissions by 12-18 per cent by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels) instead of the 25-40 per cent required.

And with loopholes, such as arranging for developing countries to do some of the emission cuts for them, their actual targets of domestic actions are even less.

The promised funds to help developing countries have so far been quite meagre, and hardly any technology transfer has taken place.

It is thus a huge task that Malaysia will have, to coordinate the G77 in the battles ahead, with the objective of getting the whole world to take climate actions seriously.

Meanwhile, on another front, the trade conflict between the European Union and China both cooled down and heated up last week.

The European Commission (EC) imposed tariffs on solar panels from China, but by an average of 11% instead of the 47% earlier planned.  This is for a three-month period to allow talks but if that does not succeed the 47% level will be imposed.

This “cooling off” was the result of Chinese success in persuading Germany and another 17 European countries to oppose the EC action. 

The next day, China announced it was investigating why some European wines are selling relatively cheaply in the country, undermining local wines.  There is the implicit threat to raise tariffs on the imported wines.

This is taken to be a retaliatory action, whereby China makes it known that it is ready to take tit-for-tat action, if it needs to.

Hopefully a good negotiated settlement can be reached by China with both the EC and United States, which earlier also raised tariffs on Chinese solar panels.

The world needs solar panels at affordable prices, to drive the move to renewable energy.  Unfair subsidies that kill jobs in other countries can be addressed, but the question is, what is an unfair subsidy?

Trade defence against dumping is part of the world trade system, but it should be used properly and not as disguised protectionism.

And it should be applied in a balanced way.  For example, why should agriculture in rich countries be exempted from the general rules on subsidies, while strict rules preventing subsidies in industry apply in developing countries?