Cancún climate change deal falls flat, Kyoto Protocol on life support
Two weeks of Cancún climate change talks ended Saturday, with a vague deal to help poor countries deal with climate change and the original Kyoto Protocol all but dead.
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To be sure, Kyoto was not buried since parties at the conference made a vague agreement to take action so that “there is no gap between the first and second commitment periods.”Skip to next paragraph
To prevent the talks from collapsing, the language had to accommodate the developing countries that are clinging to Kyoto as well as a Japan that wants very little to do with it any longer. Observers described the language as “weak” without a direct call for countries to pledge reductions in the second commitment period.
Going forward, the chance of saving the treaty are slim and the outcome emerging from the second track of negotiations, called the “Long-term Cooperative Action” (LCA), may eventually gobble up the Kyoto Protocol.
“Several countries are attempting to anchor those pledges under the Long-Term Cooperative Action track, which would have the effect of killing the Kyoto Protocol,” says Kate Horner, an analyst for the environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth.
That's already happening.
The “Cancún Agreements” which were adopted on Saturday. Pledges folded promised greenhouse-gas reductions outlined in the “Copenhagen Accord” – a political document produced at the 2009 climate conference in Denmark -- into the LCA.
The Copenhagen document, which the US is pushing as the basis of a future legal document, is despised by many developing countries that argue that the burden of reducing emissions is being unfairly placed on their shoulders.
“Anything that is said about a legally binding outcome in the future must make it very clear that that is a legally binding outcome that would apply to at least all the major countries including China, India, Brazil, and so forth,” says Todd Stern, the US special climate envoy.
There is concern, however, that a future treaty on the basis of the Copenhagen Accord could be based on the so-called “pledge and review” system supported by the US, which keeps the implementation of mitigation pledges fairly loose – i.e. they're suggested, not mandatory.
“This would establish a parallel process,” says Ms. Horner of Friends of the Earth. She argues that would lead to rich countries “jumping ship from their existing obligation into a weak and pledge-based system under the LCA."
The first commitment period of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol requires industrialized countries to bring carbon emissions 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. By contrast, the US promised to reduce its carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, which works out to 4 percent from 1990 levels.
The US argues that nonbinding pledges are worth working on, since domestic legislation forcing cuts in the US isn't on the horizon. “Let’s not be hung up for year after year after year while we are not able to get that kind of outcome,” Mr. Stern says.
But the clamor for emerging economies like those China and India to take on more legal responsibilities is also coming from fellow developing countries, especially African nations and the small island states, which are the most vulnerable to climate change.
These divisions have isolated India and China in the developing world, even among the so-called BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China), which are close allies in climate negotiations.
“There is a myth that the developing countries are one bloc,” said Mr. Ramesh, India's environment minister. He points out that India’s position on climate change would have to “evolve” as the country’s role in the world changes.