What price lives?

6 November 2009

Thursday marked another unedifying exchange in the KP “numbers group.” Annex I parties were questioning their abilities to increase their targets. Also on the table were two very important architectural elements: the 1990 base year and the system of 5-year commitment periods.

Despite arguing rightly in the past that the cost of inaction is far higher than the cost of action, the EU’s first consideration in possibly moving beyond its strikingly inadequate -30% conditional target is the economy!

Rather than embracing rapid reductions as a means of avoiding climate impacts and its heavy economic consequences, the EU whinged that -30% was about all it could do, despite the reduction of emissions during the current recession easing the task.

The cost of achieving the -30% target is now estimated to be EURO 203 billion cheaper than the original 20% reduction was expected to be when first adopted, according to a Sandbag analysis, and there’s every reason to believe other countries can similarly increase the scale of effort for the same reason.

Further, New Zealand feels that spending 0.6% of their GDP would be a high price for contributing to saving the world’s life support systems. Iceland appeared willing to countenance a higher target, but only if it has access to LULUCF and offsets.

Japan felt its newly-enhanced target is enough and rejected outright the need for a science-based top-down target. Other developed countries remained noticeably silent.

It gets worse.  Countries that have done least to reduce their emissions were keenest to hide their failures using more recent base years. Canada admitted that 1990 “was important” but bleated that the US had chosen a 2005 base year for its domestic target discussion, and in any case, new countries   (so-called “major emitters”) joining Annex B might find 1990 a barrier for so doing.

So Canada not only wants to hide its own inaction, but simultaneously points its finger at developing countries to pick up the pieces. Japan, also a major underachiever and finger-pointer, wanted to see the developed countries targets “from different angles.”

But Micronesia provided new analysis that the targets on the table range from -10% to 17% by 2020 relative to 1990 levels ex-LULUCF.  (Note to Japan: whichever way you look at it, the targets on the table are somewhere between a quarter and a third of what is needed, as a minimum.)

On the length of the second commitment period, several countries held out for periods longer than the 5-year cycle established in Kyoto. One has to suspect the motives of those that would seek to decouple the negotiations from political cycles in many countries, and disallow frequent and regular review of commitments based on the most recent science, particularly that of the IPCC.  Those culpable in this regard included Japan (again!) and Australia (although they did say they were open to 5 years).

The EU joined the fray in favour of 8-year periods, but later expressed an intention to review its targets in light of the next IPCC Assessment Report (so why not internationally in a 5-year commitment period?).  Avoiding lock-in has to be an essential element of the architecture of the Copenhagen agreement.

Once a 5-year second commitment period is properly in place for 2013-2017, ECO recommends the following timetable for the 2018-2022 commitment period: Negotiations should begin no later than 2013, conclude no later than 2015 and be directed by a scientific review done in 2014 based on the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC (AR5).

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