Climate negotiations bottle-necked in Copenhagen

Copenhagen–After two weeks of states’ negotiations, activists’ lobbying and two simultaneous draft proposals, disillusion about the outcome of the United Nations climate change conference is looming.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC)’s 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) has not witnessed thus far an agreement on a global treaty that encompasses the interests of various groups. With the arrival of about 120 heads of states and governments yesterday and two remaining working days, hopes for a comprehensive legally or politically binding agreement are dropping. “We can’t risk failure. No one here can carry this responsibility. That means that the keyword for the next two days must be compromise,” said Connie Hedegaard, Danish environment minister and president of the conference who just stepped down yesterday from her position, now assumed by Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen.

The two tracks of agreement around which deliberations have been conducted amongst state delegations and non-governmental lobbyists are the amendments to the Kyoto Protocol on one hand, and the Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA) on the other.

The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in Japan in 1997, commits industrialized countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, through different instruments. Those market-based instruments include emissions trading, whereby countries that do not reach their carbon dioxide emissions’ limits sell the reminder of their quotas to countries exceeding their limits.  Clean Development Mechanism is another instrument, whereby developed states implement emission-reduction projects in developing nations in order to earn carbon reduction credits. The first commitment period of the protocol ends in 2012, which prompts the need for a new international framework.

Meanwhile, the LCA is an alternative new draft agreement that builds on the Kyoto Protocol and that can accommodate parties that haven’t ratified the former such as the US. The agreement includes different issues pertaining to mitigation, technology transfer and financial mechanisms from the protocol, such as the introduction of a “quick-start” fund per year to achieve emissions reduction and climate adaptation in poor and climate-vulnerable countries. The agreement also would better define the responsibilities of developing countries towards climate change, on a par stream with the commitment of developed nations. The road to the LCA started two years ago at the COP13 in Bali, Indonesia.

The US, which produces about a quarter of the global greenhouse gas emissions, has entered the negotiations of the COP15 with no intention to “sign-up to Kyoto or Kyoto with another name," as per the words of a US official during the negotiations. US objections to the Protocol stem mainly from the fact that it only commits developed nations to binding emissions targets, when the emissions of developing countries such as China and India are almost matching those of the industrialized world.

“There are some really important elements of the Kyoto Protocol that the US wrote, even though we didn’t end up in the agreement," said Todd Stern, special envoy for climate change and head of the US delegation, in a press conference. "So all of the whole architecture of emissions trading and the so-called clean development mechanism. But in terms of the overall Kyoto architecture, no."

Killing Kyoto in favor of the LCA, is, however, highly objected by the developing world, as represented by China and Group 77, the UN-based inter-governmental bloc of developing countries.

“We have seen that developed countries seek to dismantle the [Kyoto] Protocol in favor of a single undertaking, allegedly comprehensive, but which is in reality much weaker and will effectively undermine and reinterpret the convention and its Kyoto Protocol,” said Nafie Ali Nafie, head of the delegation of Sudan, in a statement on behalf of the G77 and China. “For the sake of the well being of our planets and its people, the G77 and China insist that a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol must be established beyond 2012 as the basis for comparable emission reduction commitments among all developed countries. We will oppose an agreement in Copenhagen which, in any way, results in the Kyoto Protocol being suspended or made redundant.”

On 14 December, the G77 walked out of the negotiations for a few hours in protest to the potential abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol.

While bending towards the LCA, the European Union has been trying to call on the US and China to seal a deal. “We fought hard to rescue the Kyoto Protocol…We want an agreement building on all essentials of the Kyoto Protocol,” said Andreas Carlgren, Swedish minister of environment on behalf of the European Union, which his country presides. “However, the Protocol alone covers less than a third of global emissions and will not be enough to win the battle against climate change. We must strive for an agreement that is comprehensive, more ambitious, with broader participation and legally binding for all,” Carlgren continued.

For Arab states, many of which are part of the G77, a second life to the Kyoto Protocol is essential, especially to oil producing countries, which do not wish to be trapped in mitigation commitments. "I don’t know why Arab states, especially non-oil producers, have been playing a weak role in the negotiations. Many of them are in a most vulnerable position, such as Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Yemen. Climate change is not in the political agenda of those countries. How many times do we hear our leaders talking about climate change?” said Wael Hmaidan, executive director of IndyACT, an Arab network of environment activists.

For environment activists lobbying at the COP15, this conflict between developed and developing nations is symptomatic of a divergence on the level of interests and principles. “It’s not about a number or a cap, but it’s about a principle. If states agree on the principles, everything will streamline,” said Hmaidan. “There are tipping points and certain thresholds, where we start loosing communities.”

For him, and many other lobbyists, there is no need to push in one or another track, but to work on both simultaneously. “We endorse both tracks. The Kyoto Protocol is already there and is binding to many states. If it is disregarded, we might go back to chaos. For those countries not part of Kyoto like the US, financial mechanisms and other issues can be settled outside Kyoto.” According to him, the developing countries, which are vehemently calling for the redemption of the Kyoto Protocol are actually killing it by not focusing on the LCA, which is going to compel them to do actions. “If states sign on a second commitment phase to the Kyoto Protocol, the amendments have to be ratified by respective parliaments. With the US outside of the protocol and more parliaments possibly walking out of it, that would be the death of Kyoto. If developing nations want to safeguard Kyoto, they need to work on a strong LCA. That will make state parties to the Kyoto Protocol think twice before leaving it.”

Working on both tracks simultaneously is the position of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition of small islands and coastal countries that share similar risks of disappearance because of rising sea levels. “Our job here today is to ensure that the two tracks… one under the Kyoto Protocol and the other under the convention – are each brought to its separate but complementary conclusion,” said Tillman Thomas, prime minister of Grenada, on behalf of AOSIS. In a symbolic act earlier this year, Mohamed Nasheed, president of the Maldives, pledged that the Indian Ocean islands will become the world’s first carbon-neutral country by 2020 in an attempt to prompt fellow developing countries to follow suit.

As the clock is ticking towards the closure of the doors of the Bella Center, where the COP15 is hosted, activists from around the world have been demonstrating around Copenhagen and eventually clashing with the security. Around the venue, many of them sat in protest with vigils and signs that read, “Survival is not negotiable.”

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