Global Trends by Martin Khor

9 November 2009

Conflict deepens before Copenhagen

There is a continued attempt to shift the burden of responsibility to developing countries, and in violation of principles of the UNFCCC and Bali Action Plan.


The United Nations climate talks in Barcelona last week ended disappointingly as there was little progress on the key political issues, and a few dramatic events that showed the depth of the impasse.

It was the last session before the Copenhagen conference in December, and it lost the last chance to closing the gaps on the many issues still outstanding.

But it was not all doom and gloom.  There was some advance in clarifying some issues, for example some new texts were discussed in finance and technology issues.

They did not bridge the differences, but helped countries to clarify their positions better and thus enabled decisions on key issues to be made in Copenhagen (such as the setting up of a Fund inside the UN’s climate convention, and whether to set up a new executive body to decide on technology transfer issues inside the UNFCCC).    

However differences on some key issues remained and in some cases deepened, which is not a positive sign for Copenhagen.

First is the future of the Kyoto Protocol.  What was signaled in Bangkok in early October was confirmed in Barcelona, that almost all the developed countries have decided to abandon the Protocol.

They apparently want to establish a new agreement, which is likely to be a climb down from the internationally legally binding regime that was Kyoto, to a collection of national efforts and peer review of performance, in the new agreement.

The developing countries made clear in Barcelona that they would not accept this climb-down and that the developed countries have to make clear they will remain in KP and seriously negotiate a second commitment period (that starts in 2013) in Copenhagen.

Second is the very low level of ambition of developed countries in emission reduction.  Developing countries have called for an aggregate cut of at least 40% by 2020 compared to 1990.

The latest figures revealed at Barcelona is that the national announcements amount to only 16-23% (excluding the US, Secretariat data) and 11-17% (including the US, according to an estimate of the small island states).   The developing countries are aghast at such low levels of commitments, which do not form a basis of an environmentally ambitious outcome in Copenhagen.

Third is the continued attempt to shift the burden of responsibility to developing countries, and in violation of the principles and provisions of the Convention and the Bali Action Plan.

Developed countries at Barcelona proposed to blur the distinction between the differentiated responsibilities of developed countries (mitigation commitments that are legally binding) and developing countries (mitigation actions enabled and supported by finance and technology).

The attempt included getting developing countries to adhere to new and broad reporting and verification procedures similar to developed countries, to get some “advanced developing countries” to adhere to reduction emission targets, and to get developing countries in general to have emissions “deviation from business as usual by 15 to 30 percent”.  These were not agreed to in Bali nor are they in the Convention’s provisions. 

Fourth, the adequate means to enable developing countries to take actions, are still not forthcoming.  On finance, the developed countries have yet as a group to respond to the finance proposals of the developing countries which rage from 1 to 5 percent of GNP.  The EU’s recent announcement of a willingness to consider Euro 22 to 50 billion by 2020 of international public finance is inadequate, and more details are needed on this as well as Europe’s own share.

On technology transfer, there is a reluctance of developed countries to agree to setting up an executive body to decide on technology issues and to effect technology transfer.  An advisory group is not good enough, especially since there has been very little tech-transfer achieved under the Convention for the past decade and half.  

Fifth, there is a difference over the “shared vision” and a long-term global goal for emissions reduction. Some developed countries confirmed their proposal for a global 50% emissions cut by 2050 compared to 1990, and a 80% cut for themselves.  However what was unstated is that this requires developing countries to also cut by 20% in absolute terms and 60% in per capita terms. Some developing countries have to cut by significantly more than 60% from the 2009 level. 

Thus the “burden” in percentage terms is almost the same.  Yet the massive finance and technology transfers that may enable developing countries to take on a part of this challenge is not forthcoming.  The figures have to be discussed more, the developed countries have to undertake “negative emissions” (achieve net emissions reduction, below zero) and the finance and technology issues have to be resolved beforehand.

The above are some of the issues that have to be resolved if Copenhagen is to be a success.  Whatever is the nature or form of the outcome (whether a full deal or a framework of a deal, or a decision to continue the talks), the aspects of environment, equity and North-South balance have to be taken care of.

At the closing plenary in Barcelona, China’s delegation chief, Su Wei, gave a direct message. “To those developed countries who are standing there waiting for developing countries to act, please look ahead,” he said.  “We, the developing countries, have already left you behind, you cannot use developing countries as an excuse for your inaction any more.

“Please wake up and to see that Copenhagen is just miles away, you have to get running in order catch up. Otherwise, you will fail in the race to Copenhagen and beyond.”

And India’s special envoy on climate change, Shyam Saran, rejected attempts to already declare failure at Barcelona and downgrade our expectations from Copenhagen.

“To talk about a political agreement instead of a legally binding outcome, to suggest that we may be able to achieve some result only by the end of 2010, these are prophecies which we must dismiss,” he said.

The warnings from the two largest developing countries indicate that the Copenhagen conference will see a major battle, unless informal meetings and talks among some countries help to bridge the gaps.