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Hanging by a Thread: Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012

The conversation around the result of COP18 vacillates around extreme verdicts of the same – with most hailing it an utter failure and a few celebrating its success. This article takes a look at what was hoped to be achieved at the conference, and what actually transpired. 

Much has been said about the result of the Doha conference on climate change. Discussions have been a-plenty with groups ruminating about the lackluster attitude of global leaders in discussing the gravest threat to civilization in the century. Others have said that Doha delivered everything that was on its plate.  

COP18 was a transition COP. The most important thing to achieve was to secure consensus on the extension of the Kyoto Protocol. To that end, COP18 was a success. Having said that, the nitty-gritties of the treaty, contentious questions about finance, transfer of technology, emission reduction targets, carbon markets and everything that comprises the body of the agreement, are yet to be resolved. 

Terms of the prospective treaty

194 countries have agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol and put the agreement in place by 2015. However, these countries account for less than 15% of the world’s GHG emissions.

USA so far has not veered towards joining Kyoto.  Also while China has emerged as the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, being a developing country, it too will not have a binding emission reduction target.

Consensus has been reached about the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Developed countries are still bound to aid developing countries in adaptation funds and loss and damage claims. However, the actual deployment of the $100 billion corpus remains up in the air with no official roadmap or timelines in place to secure the fund.

One of the bigger achievements of COP18 was the inclusion of the term “loss and damage”. Developed countries are to provide funding through the GCF, as compensation to the loss of life and livelihood induced by climate change in developing countries, much to the dismay of countries like the USA, who is lobbying hard for its removal.

COP18 was so pre-occupied with extending the already formed Kyoto protocol that no moves were made to increase the emission reduction targets. The targets for countries remain at 5.2 percent below 1990 levels till 2020.

Though discussions on enhancing the Clean Development Mechanism did take place, no meaningful reforms were agreed upon. Carbon prices are likely to remain where they are, at least for the time being.

Controversial issues such as the aviation and shipping tax to be brought under the purview of EU-ETS have been postponed till 2016.

Unexpected coalitions 

While multi-lateral negotiations continue at a snail’s pace, there are those who are springing to action with or without international consensus. The ‘coalition of the willing’ or the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) discussions have probably been the most successful and meaningful conversations to have transpired at the Doha talks. The 25 member countries of the CCAC have pledged to reduce emissions of short-lived greenhouse gases. This rare consensus has been reached to tackle the problem of black carbon or soot. Black carbon, methane and refrigerant gases are to be targeted, which may reduce global warming by 0.5 degree Celsius by 2050. The coalition is moving fast, with the USA backing it, and seems to be in sharp contrast to the otherwise staggering climate change negotiation. 

If not here, then where; if not now, then when

The lead climate negotiator of Philippines asked this very pertinent question in his passionate plea to formulate an ambitious climate change mitigation policy at Doha. Speaking in the aftermath of the typhoon Pablo, which ravaged the country, he articulated what billions around the world are thinking. While over-arching policies are being worked out and multi-lateral negotiations enable the conversations for the same, it is equally important to remember that businesses and civil society can fork out a path even in the absence of international agreements. 

The greatest example of a UN climate negotiation success catalyzed by business is the case of the Montreal Protocol. Formulated in 1987, the Montreal Protocol sought to phase out CFCs which were depleting the ozone layer. Bolstered by the leadership demonstrated by hundreds of businesses, led by Dow and Dupont, the $1 trillion CFC industry went through a complete transformation. It was the producers and users of CFC who came together, and in a rare case of universal ratification, formulated an ambitious action plan.

The UNFCC has been unable to bring together the influential private sector into its work plan as yet. The failure of the only market based mechanism to combat climate change - the CDM - has further alienated this sector. What is probably needed now is for businesses to make investment decisions which would put them in competitive advantage in a low-carbon economy and catalyze thought leadership to herald an ambitious climate change mitigation strategy – with or without international agreements on the same. 

The author, Anindita Chakraborty, is part of the Sustainability Outlook team.

Image(s) Courtesy:

IHA Central Office

Miljømagasinet Putsj




Author: Anindita Chakraborty