ECO did note one encouraging development at the start of the second week. The Africa Group dug in its heels in defence of the two-track approach, with most of the G77. Ministers considering the process proposal for the day perceived an agenda too close to the paper leaked early in the first week, which sought to terminate the Kyoto Protocol.
Four ministers broke off their own meeting and marched to the office of the COP President. Fortunately, the ensuing consultation resulted in a reworking of the order of business for the day and negotiations proceeded with restored respect for the two-track process.
The principled response to a threat to the Kyoto Protocol by the Africa Group is applauded.
Just a few days after US President Barack Obama accepted his Nobel Peace prize, a spectre hangs over the Copenhagen negotiations – the Kyoto Syndrome. This is based on the received wisdom that the Clinton Administration blew it by agreeing to Kyoto without building the foundation for the US Senate to ratify the Protocol. In fact, the real lesson from Kyoto is that the Senate needs to move, not that the President should back off.
The Kyoto Syndrome inhibits the US delegation from making agreements on critical issues for fear of “getting too far ahead of Congress.” But some of these issues – like targets and financing – could torpedo the negotiations.
President Obama has said that he will commit the US to the goal passed by the House – a reduction in emissions of only about 4% from 1990 levels by 2020. That is embarrassingly low compared with the conclusion of leading scientists that industrialised nations should reduce emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels.
Given this week’s formal finding by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that greenhouse gases endanger public health and safety, President Obama has the authority to establish a goal more in line with climate science and provide new and additional financing for climate action in developing countries, and to make sure the goal is met. If Congress fails to deliver a cap on emissions, President Obama can instruct EPA to implement a strong cap on domestic action.
If the US limits its negotiating position in Copenhagen to Congress’ comfort zone, we’re in for a potentially deadly result. Yet, President Obama can come to Copenhagen next week with a bold commitment to cut the United States emissions. Yes, he can.
While the Kyoto Protocol is not yet in force (due to the unilateral declaration by the George W. Bush Administration of the United States that it would not follow the Kyoto Protocol, as well as delay in Russiaís ratification of it) already many difficulties have been overcome, with deailed operational rules for the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol having been agreed upon at the Seventh Conference of the Parties (COP7), and more than 120 countries having ratified it. This indicates that the large majority of the countries and people of the world are strongly in support of the Kyoto Protocol as the only international system of rules that could allow us to confront global warming.
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.
Look carefully around you: there is an elephant walking the hallways in Bangkok (it’s not the local type). It’s an intangible but very sizable beast: 7.5 to 10 Gt CO2e worth of surplus assigned amount units (AAUs).
It’s important to understand the scale of the AAU elephant - almost a third of current, best-case Annex I pledges. If this gets off the track, it threatens to undermine real emissions reductions and collapse the price of carbon when carried over from Kyoto’s first commitment period to a post-2012 regime. This represents a serious threat to the goal of limiting warming to as far below 2oC as possible.
The collapse of economies in transition during the 1990s produced real social and economic hardship. Yet emissions fell dramatically, delaying the reduction of carbon space in the atmosphere.
However, this was by no means the result of climate policy, and rewarding this phenomenon as “early action” contravenes the principle that only targeted, policy-driven changes in greenhouse gas emissions should be accounted for. In addition, to no one’s surprise, surplus AAUs are currently the “grubby outcasts” of the carbon market (even worse than HFCs).
It wasn’t the best idea in Kyoto for Parties to allocate the surplus, but they can join together to correct this error in Copenhagen.
If countries with surpluses want to trade, that needs to be part of a credible, environmentally sound solution.
For example, countries holding extra AAU amounts could agree to a stringent discount (e.g., 60%) of the surplus, if carried over, and the remaining Annex I countries could increase their pledges by another 5%, insuring that overall Annex I aggregate emissions stay more than 40% below 1990 levels in 2020. If countries can’t agree to this kind of solution, carry-over should be forbidden under the Copenhagen agreement.
The EU Commission took a strong position on the AAU surplus issue. Options they have been considering should be rolled into the kind of compromise described above. AAUs cannot be used for compliance in the EU post-2012 climate and energy package. Now the EU can set the tone internationally, reaching a solution to absorb its surplus out of the global compliance system before Copenhagen.
Russia and Ukraine have set 2020 targets, but according to IIASA, those levels could actually be achieved by business-as-usual emissions growth from current levels, while still generating hundreds of megatons of credits annually. Talk about a free elephant ride!
This could divert huge financing flows away from mitigation in developing countries.
Russia and Ukraine should set more ambitious targets, well below BAU, and address the current surplus. While their emissions collapse slowed the growth of GHG stocks, this would be reversed if the Kyoto surplus was used to achieve targets, and especially so if future weak targets generate yet more questionable credits. From ECO’s viewpoint, that would be about as absurd as watching a magician pull an elephant out of a hat.
Parties should welcome the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by the nations of Kazakhstan, Turkey and Zimbabwe. Their action affirms Kyoto’s continued value and demonstrates a commitment to sparing humanity from catastrophic climate change.
A Copenhagen agreement that does not aim for a high probability of ensuring the survival and sustainable development of all nations, and the welfare of the most vulnerable, is not acceptable. The targets currently tabled by developed countries fall well short of guaranteeing these core objectives. Those targets put us on a trajectory to wipe sovereign nations off the map, add to development challenges and increase human suffering.
There is a very narrow envelope of possible emissions pathways to 2050 that have an acceptably high probability of avoiding the worst impacts of dangerous climate change. These pathways require peaking global emissions within the next 5-year commitment period and achieving reductions of at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
Developed nation commitments must be based on a science-driven approach. A weak, bottom-up approach to reduction targets combined with loopholes and offsets creates a race to the bottom and a crash course on the harsh reality of catastrophic climate change.
Carbon markets should play a role in a post-2012 agreement only if the currently tabled developed country reduction targets are increased dramatically. In addition, the hazard of surplus AAUs must be addressed. The rules on LULUCF, offsetting and AAU banking must be consistent with keeping temperatures well below 2oC.
There is no avoiding the fact that deep and real emissions reductions are needed now. There simply is no atmospheric space for evasion of responsibility. For this reason, agreements in the KP track must be consistent with agreements in the LCA track in order to avoid double-counting, promote consistency, avoid loopholes and ensure the environmental integrity and fairness of the overall Copenhagen agreement.
The Kyoto Protocol provides a clear framework for industrialized country action. Rapidly evolving scientific evidence on the growing impacts of global warming does not allow for any more time to be wasted in renegotiating its architecture. Copenhagen must deliver robust, quantifiable, legally binding emissions reduction targets for all developed countries consistent with our world’s shrinking carbon budget.
The existing monitoring, reporting and verification systems are essential to help ensure environmental integrity. The compliance system must be strengthened and expanded to include an early warning system to correct projected shortfalls as well as stronger consequences for non-compliance if early warning does not lead to a remedy. The system of 5-year commitment periods is vital to allow for reviews based on new science, particularly the 5th IPCC assessment report due in 2014.
Developed countries are deliberately blurring discussions by taking different rather than common approaches to negotiating their targets. Agreement must be reached here in Bangkok on a more than 40% aggregate reduction target by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, 5-year commitment periods, and an agreement on supplementarity. Only when these elements are fixed can fair, effective national targets be negotiated and the “comparability of effort” be evaluated, and our chances of survival be elevated.