Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 16 June 2008

South presses for funds, technology at climate talks

Developing countries are now pushing the rich nations to come up with funds and technology under a democratic structure in order to break the impasse in global talks to tackle the crisis of climate change. 


Wide differences were evident between developed and developing countries at a two-week session of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that ended in Bonn last Friday.

This shows how hard it will be for governments to reach an agreement on how to go forward on fighting climate change on two fronts – Mitigation (preventing the situation worsening by reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions) and Adaptation (taking measures to reduce the impact of unavoidable climate change).

Scientists and an increasing number of politicians believe it is the greatest battle in the world today, as climate change threatens the very survival of humanity.  If drastic action is not taken to get   emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases to “peak” by 2015 or 2020, and then halve by 2050, there will be devastating consequences on sea level rise, melting of glaciers, water supply, flooding, agricultural production and human health.  

A working group on “long-term cooperative action” (LCA) is tasked with following up on a Bali Action Plan to conclude talks by the end of 2009 on new “commitments” for developed countries to cut their emissions and to provide finance and technology to developing countries, and on mitigation and adaptation “actions” by developing countries.

How the developed and developing countries should share their responsibilities and burdens in taking their respective measures continued to be the main source of differences in Bonn.

This came out in the many intense discussions on finance, technology, adaptation, mitigation and a “shared vision” for cooperation.  As an eloquent Brazilian official put it: “We don’t have a shared vision today.  It has to be built.”

Among the rich nations, there is a belief that all countries – or at least the developed countries and the “advanced developing countries” – have to act to cut their emissions.  If only the rich countries were to act, the “advanced” developing countries will have an economic advantage, and moreover the total emissions won’t be reduced, or reduced enough.

The developing countries stress instead that they were not responsible for most of the Greenhouse Gases that are now concentrated in the atmosphere, and they must be given enough space to develop economically. 

They cannot be expected to cut their emissions as they need to use current forms of energy for economic survival and growth – unless and to the extent they are assisted with finance and technology transfer that will enable them to carry out the technology and energy revolution required for both growth and emission reduction to take place simultaneously.

Moreover, there is no agreed definition of an “advanced” developing country.  China and India are usually picked on as having to do more. But that is because they have huge populations and thus large absolute emissions compared to smaller countries.  On per capita emission terms, they are far below the Western or Japanese levels, and also below many other developing countries.

At the Bonn meeting, these different paradigms were at play.  The developing countries, led by the Group of 77 and China, put forward more concrete proposals than they had previously done, on the financing resources and structure and on the technology transfer mechanisms they would like.

They called for a financial mechanism to be operationalised under the Convention itself, answerable to the member states in a democratic governance system, so that many billions of dollars of funds can be provided for developing countries to take mitigation and adaptation actions.

They also wanted mechanisms set up to help developing countries obtain climate-friendly technologies at low and affordable prices, and for them to make, adapt and design technologies themselves.  In their concept, “technology transfer” does not mean just the purchase or importing of equipment or machinery at market prices.

The G77 and China, which is coordinated at the LCA working group by Bernaditas Muller of the Philippines, said a “shared vision” must include not only the stabilisation of Greenhouse Gas concentrations in the atmosphere, but ensure this is done in a way that enables economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner, as provided for in the Convention.

She also stressed the principles of equity and “common but differentiated responsibilities”.  Developed countries have failed to pursue effective mitigation actions, even with the very low targets agreed to in the Kyoto Protocol, resulted in increasing adverse effects of climate change.

They need to do much more, both to reduce their emissions and to assist the developing countries with finance and technology.

The main role of developing countries in addressing climate change and its adverse effects is to pursue sustainable development, a clean development path that will not repeat the mistakes of the past, for which developed countries have obligations to provide financial resources and transfer of technology, said the G77 and China.

Malaysia, whose delegation was headed by Ambassador Selwyn Das, was an active participant.  It 

told the meeting that a shared vision is not only about emission reduction targets. “It also refers to targets for finance and technology,” said Ambassador Das.

“Simulations of scenarios of global emission reductions of certain percentages and what this means for developing countries are needed. If developed countries undertake certain percentage cuts, an important issue is what the residual cuts for the developing countries will be. The data and simulations would help advance discussions.”

Several developed countries, including the United States, Japan and Canada, in many sessions, were explicit or implicit in their demand that developing countries should also act to cut their emissions, as part of the bargain for developed countries to do more.

They did not deny the need to provide finance and technology, but the US in particular put the onus on developing countries to create the conditions for the private sector to be attracted to invest in them.

This gave the impression that the Annex I countries (so called because the developed countries are listed in Annex I of the Convention) are not yet serious about committing to assist the developing countries.

Absent that political commitment, and the working out of concrete details on funding and technology transfer, the climate talks will continue to be at an impasse. The developing countries are likely to continue to argue that the extent to which they act depends on the extent to which they get the funds and technology to do so, which is also a major principle in the Convention.

The developing countries are also upset that while little funds have been made available under the Convention, the United Kingdom, Japan and the US are leading an initiative to put billions of dollars of climate funds into the World Bank, an institution they control.

The G77 and China strongly criticised this move, and stressed that if the climate talks are to progress, then the funds required by developing countries should come under the governance of the UNFCCC itself, where the action measures and the funding for these actions can be negotiated together.

The next round of climate talks is in Accra in August, at which more concrete proposals for finance and technology are expected to be discussed.