Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 14 June 2010

Setback for poor nations as climate talks end

The Bonn climate talks ended last Friday with developing countries strongly criticising a new draft of a global deal which surprisingly eliminated some of their most important proposals.


The two-week session on climate change at Bonn ended on 11 June with mixed results.  On one hand, the developing countries suffered a setback when many of their key points were eliminated or ignored in a new paper produced by the Chair of a working group on long-term cooperation.

On the other hand, they succeeded in pressing for more action in another working group in which the developed countries must make new emissions-reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.

The talks at the UN Climate Convention had mainly been at a slow pace.  But it gathered rather dramatic force on the last day, 11 June, forcing delegates who had hoped to finish early to watch the opening match of the World Cup to instead continue with their meetings.

The two weeks also re-established the United Nations as the only legitimate venue to get a global deal to act on climate change, following the disastrous conclusion of the Copenhagen Conference.

On 10 June night, a new revised draft of a basic deal on climate change was issued by the Chair of the group on long-term cooperation (LCA), Margaret Sangarwe of Zimbabwe.

The new paper caused an increasing cascade of critical statements from developing countries, with the G77 and China (the developing countries' umbrella group) saying it was “dismayed” at the imbalances in the draft and urging that its positions and proposals be restored in the next draft.

In a long and strong statement, China said it deviated from the Bali Road Map (which provides the mandate and terms of reference of the negotiations) by 50%, adding it was surprised how the Chair could produce such a text.  It criticised the Chair for affecting the continued existence of the Kyoto Protocol and deleting key points from the text, and “that is why we cannot accept it.”

Sharp criticisms were also voiced by other Asian developing countries, including Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and East Timor.

Malaysia said it was uncomfortable with the text as it moves away from the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol.  The text disregards the developing countries' need for development, calls on developing countries to “peak” their emissions by 2020 when even the developed countries have yet to “peak”, and places very onerous obligations on developing countries to have their actions subject to international analysis.

The text also obliged developing countries to have “low carbon development plans”, which was new and an imposition, and it had also deleted many proposals of developing countries.  Thus a new balanced draft is needed.

The Africa Group said the text was imbalanced and inconsistent with the developing countries' demands for the equity principle, or for comparable emission cuts by developed countries, and threatens to replace the Kyoto Protocol. 

Brazil also expressed dismay at the text which had deleted developing countries' proposals and called for a thorough revision.  Many other Latin American countries, including Venezuela, Bolivia and Argentina also criticised the paper.

In contrast, most of the developed countries gave the impression that they liked the new paper, even though they mentioned certain shortcomings. 

A reading of the paper confirms the developing countries' view that it has eliminated many of their key positions whilst adding new obligations on them, some of which had not even been in earlier drafts or discussed properly. 

Moreover most of the controversial new points were not even placed within brackets, giving the false impression that they enjoy consensus, and thus putting the developing countries at a serious disadvantage.

The first problem is that the new text  implies the ending of the Kyoto Protocol (which the developing countries insist should continue) and its replacement with a new agreement in which the mitigation obligations of developed and developing countries are treated almost at the same level.

In this new scheme, the developed countries would climb down from a binding regime of mandatory deep emission cuts to a voluntary system of pledges, while developing countries would have to undertake higher obligations to act and report than they now have to.

The previous text contained an option requiring developed countries that are members of the Kyoto Protocol to continue making their commitments under the Protocol.  But the new paper has deleted this, thereby implying the Protocol be replaced by the remaining option, the system of voluntary national pledges.

The new draft also deals a major blow to the equity principle that is so vital for developing countries. In a section on global emission cuts, the key words “preceeded by a paradigm for equal access to global atmospheric resources” were removed. 

The text also calls for achieving “the peaking of global and national emissions by 2020”.   This means that developing countries too will have to cut emissions after 2020 in absolute terms, even though their emissions levels are far lower than the developed countries.  This has huge economic and development implications.

The developing countries also wanted to add a strong paragraph to prohibit trade protectionism (for example, imposing charges or duties on imports) by developed countries on the grounds of addressing climate change.  But this has been left out in the main section.

Other important elements left out are that developed countries must make a “comparable effort” in their emissions cuts, and that they should contribute 1.5% of the GNP to a climate funds to enable developing countries to take climate actions.

The paper also treats developed and developing countries almost on the same footing in their need to report and verify their emissions reduction actions.

Following the strong criticisms, the Chair, Margaret Sangarwe, said she would take the points into account when she prepares a new draft.  Developing countries are however worried whether they can recover the ground lost through the paper.

In another working group, on further actions under the Kyoto Protocol, the developing countries proposed that the work be speeded up through new research to be done by the Secretariat and a workshop on the adequacy of national emission-reduction pledges already made by developed countries.

Even these mild proposals were resisted by some developed countries.  So far the developed countries as a whole have been reluctant make progress to agree on emission cuts after 2012, giving a clear signal that they do not want the Kyoto Protocol to continue.

After hours of wrangling, the developing countries managed to get their proposals for future work adopted, and this provided a small silver lining in the otherwise gloomy atmosphere. The next round of climate talks are in the first week of August.