Global Tends by Martin Khor

Monday 26 November 2007

A post-2012 climate scheme in Bali?

There is misinformation in many reports that the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 and talks for a new treaty must be launched in Bali.  The reality is more complex.


As the Bali meetings on climate change near, there is a frenzy of activities and statements about what to do about this problem.

Last week, the Asean leaders adopted a declaration on climate change, calling for “an effective, comprehensive and equitable post-2012 international climate change arrangement.”

For the Bali meetings to succeed, some facts about the current regime need to be straightened out.

In many statements and media reports, there is misinformation that the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, and a new protocol must be created to replace it.

This misinformation was for example published in a Singapore newspaper report on the Asean Summit last week.

The Kyoto Protocol was established in 1997 under the UN Convention on Climate Change (which itself was adopted in 1992).

Under Kyoto, developed-country members are legally required to cut their Greenhouse Gas emissions.  They agreed to cut emissions collectively by 5% between 1990 and the end of the first commitment period, which is 2008 to 2012. Each country has its own specified target, and the targets are all listed in an annex.

Developing countries are not required to commit to emission reductions, because of their lower development level, and as they contributed little to the historical build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

They committed to collect data on Greenhouse gases at the national level, and to formulate national measures to avoid and adapt to climate change.  However, it was also agreed that their actions depend on the extent to which the developed countries meet their other protocol commitments – to provide finance and technology to the poorer countries.

The importance of the year 2012 is because the first commitment period of the developed countries ends then.  The Protocol has a mandate for further commitment periods.  The second commitment period starts in 2013.

By then the developed countries must have an agreed legally-binding set of targets for further reducing their emissions.  And the leaders of many of these countries say that by 2009 the targets must already be set to enable a smooth transition..

Thus, what is in the books is a negotiation for a second set of commitments of the developed countries for the post-2012 period. It is wrong to claim that the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.  Only the first commitment period ends then, and a second period should begin in 2013.

Why then the publicity about the need for a “comprehensive” post-2012 treaty?  In reality, the developed countries are no longer satisfied with the Kyoto Protocol’s exemption of developing countries from binding emission cuts. 

It appears that they are now placing new conditions before setting emission targets for themselves.  And the main condition seems to be that developing countries begin to take on more commitments.  At least they are targeting big countries like China and India and and possibly more industrialized countries such as Korea, Brazil and some in Asean.

The call for a “new post-2012 treaty” and for “comprehensive negotiations” is thus a code for pulling in developing countries into making commitments, with different levels or types of commitments for different developing countries.

Since it is very controversial to place this demand so directly, there is publicity of the need for a “comprehensive agreement”, to replace the Kyoto protocol.

Another problem is the refusal of the United States and Australia to join the Kyoto Protocol or follow its emission targets.  The US has complained that Kyoto lets off the big developing countries off the hook, and it used this as a reason for pulling out of Kyoto.

Several European countries, having woken up to the realities of climate science, want the United States to be part of a post-2012 set of targets for emission cuts, and to somehow also pull in some developing countries either to commit to cut their emissions or to undertake semi-hard commitments.

But many developing countries are not yet ready to undertake legally binding or semi-binding commitments.  For a start, the developed countries have not yet lived up to their commitments – either to adequately cut their emissions, or to provide funds and technology to developing countries.

Second, they argue that what is important is not the total emissions put out by a country, but its per capita emissions.  And most developing countries’ emissions per person are still low compared to developed countries’ levels.

Third, they are concerned that if they have to curb their emissions, their economic and social development will be affected.  There are recent studies showing that growth will be hardly affected (only reduced by 0.12% a year) if the required deep emission cuts are done in a proper way.

That may be true, but there is still a lot of information needed and a practical plan to be put into practice to make this happen.  This low-carbon new development pathway has yet to be practiced.

In short, many developing countries do not want to commit themselves in a legally binding way in an international agreement to cut their emissions.  Much more confidence has to be built up before they take this step.

This does not mean that developing countries should let themselves “off the hook.”  The next two years should be spent in deepening the understanding of how climate change is going to affect the country, and in drawing up national, provincial, and sectoral plans and measures to curb emissions growth, end deforestation, and take adaptation measures like planting of mangrove forests.

And each developing country should state what their present understanding is of how the climate crisis will affect it, what assistance it needs, and what it plans to do.  Other countries can them comment on this.

Meanwhile the developed countries must prove their sincerity by taking their finance and technology obligations to developing countries seriously.  As well as to agree to take very deep cuts in their emissions in the next commitment period beyond 2012.

The Bali meetings can be expected to intensely discuss the roles and commitments of developed and developing countries.

Actions of the next to four years can be carried out under the Kyoto Protocol.  Of course new measures by various countries can and must be negotiated and implemented, but they can be made within the Convention and the protocol.

Whether to put an end to the Kyoto Protocol, or to create a “new post-2012 treaty” is by no means on the cards in Bali.  We should not proceed to these important climate talks with wrong expectations, for then it would be harder to achieve success.