Build on Kyoto’s Strengths

The Kyoto Protocol is the first small step in industrialised countries taking the lead to fight climate change. While there have been some growing pains along the way and there is definitely room for improvement in some areas, the Kyoto Protocol forms a strong basis upon which to expand industrialised country commitments. ECO would like to take a moment to remind Parties what is good and what needs to be improved in Kyoto.

At its core, Kyoto is an internationally binding multilateral framework that requires that all play by the same rules: from how they account for their own emissions, which credits they can use towards their targets and what the consequences of non-compliance are. This cannot change. To ensure a level playing field, we must continue to compare apples with apples and not let Parties pick and choose their own rules domestically.

In other words, the legal nature of the obligation (quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives (QELROs)); the base year (1990); the gases and their global warming potentials (GWP); the sectors; the land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) rules; and the accounting (assigned amount units (AAUs)) or the concept by another name; and reporting, review and compliance must be the same for all industrialised country Parties. They must not be subject to any loopholes that their domestic laws may provide. When industrialised countries’ Parties finally step up to the plate and recognise their financial obligations to support action in developing countries, the financial reporting rules will also need to be the same.

There are many areas in which the Kyoto Protocol could be improved.  This is not surprising as Kyoto was a first foray into uncharted waters.  However improving is different from fundamentally changing the architecture. The most obvious section of Kyoto that needs to be improved in the next commitment period, but one that seems to be lost on most industrialised countries is the targets inscribed in Annex B and the aggregate in Article 3.1. ECO expects Parties to reach an agreement on a -40% below 1990 aggregate target for 2020 here in Bangkok as conclusion on this agenda item is well overdue. ECO also hopes to see development of the review and compliance regime of Kyoto.

Finally, let us not forget all of the good work the expert review teams have been doing behind the scenes to help Parties improve the quality of their inventories and national registries and systems, and resolve disputes related to data submissions. The international review process keeps Parties “on their toes” as they never know which issues might be raised. The power of expert review teams to adjust emissions data serves as a further incentive for Parties to produce high quality emissions data.

As the review of initial reports demonstrates, these adjustments are not insignificant amounts. A total of 124 potential problems were identified; 117 of these issues were resolved through a dialogue between the reviewers and the Party. This demonstrates the cooperative and problem-solving nature of the review process. The remaining problems related to two Parties where adjustments were made. While the work of the ERTs is largely facilitative, it does help to have “the stick” of referral to the Compliance Committee to ensure access to data and the full cooperation of Parties.   Adopting a peer review mechanism with no referral function or dispute resolution procedure would lose these crucial elements and undercut the effectiveness of the regime.

ECO finds it rather ironic that some Parties are now using Canada’s recalcitrance as an example for why Kyoto Protocol compliance has not worked. All this goes to show is that automatic early-warning triggers are required to bring Parties before the Committee (and not that the Committee itself does not work). ECO would be more than happy to refer recalcitrant Parties to the Compliance Committee, if Parties would only give us such an opportunity.

With only 10 negotiating days left until Copenhagen, let us focus on sewing up a deal that builds on Kyoto’s strengths rather than unravelling this multilateral structure in favour of domestic flexibilities.

[Article published in Climate Action Network's Eco Newspaper, Oct. 5, 2009 from Bangkok, Thailand UNFCCC negotiations - full PDF version here]