“I have to congratulate the EU for the leadership shown here.” It is rare to hear such praise during speeches in the High Level segment of a COP. But the words uttered yesterday by Mohamed Aslam, the Maldives’ Minister of Housing and Environment, are something more than a simple recognition of the effort made by the EU for a II commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP). For all developing countries it is fundamental to save the only legally binding climate instrument, the KP, in order to preserve the hope for a further international deal against climate change. But for Small Island States the EU represents the only real life-vest for their future, considering that water levels in the oceans are already increasing by circa 1 cm every 3 years.
For several years the EU has been showing a strong commitment in the fight against climate change, but now in Durban it has the opportunity to strongly lead the process. And it appears unwilling to accept a secondary role, as had happened in Copenhagen where the main decisions were thrashed out mostly by the US and the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China).
As Connie Hedegard, the EU Commissioner for climate change, underlined in last Monday’s press conference, the EU has been working for the past 14 years within the framework of the KP. “All our legislation is based on the KP principle and you cannot find another country in the world where this happens.” There is thus no desire to go backwards, as many measures are in place and fully operational. The EU CO2 market connected with the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) will probably continue to be implemented in the future regardless of what the Durban Conference will decide for the KP, because it is something already fully integrated in the European market.
Theoretically the EU could adhere to the II commitment of KP without any further political and technical measures, simply by introducing the -20% target by 2020, which has been enshrined in European legislation since 2008. This strengthens significantly the EU position in the negotiations. For this reason a new “Durban Road Map” appears more likely every day and this time the new three-year negotiation process needs to have all major emitters onboard, including the USA and China.
It is possible that China’s new willingness to discuss changes in its approach is the result of internal shifts within the G77 + China group, faced with the need to address new scenarios for the future. Already in 2007, during the Barcelona climate talks, the African countries started to speak with a single voice in order to better defend the interests of a continent strongly affected by climate change and with an economy lightyears behind that of China. Later in Copenhagen and Cancun it was the turn of the Less Developed Countries to ask for more financial assistance than the rest of the emerging economies. Now in Durban the insistent request for change comes from the small oceanic islands.
Tuvalu’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade, Tourism, Environment and Labour, Apisai Ielemia, remarked during his High Level speech that his islands are suffering not only for the rising sea levels, but also by the worst drought in memory. “We have to act now. Not in 2015 and definitely not in 2020. We have no time to wait!” But Ielemia spent a good part of his three minutes of time, normally dedicated to sound the alarm for the climate change affecting his islands, to ask for the participation of Taiwan in the UNFCCC.
This has to be interpreted as a clear message to China to begin acting as a major contributor to the reduction of the global CO2 emissions. Minister Mohamed Aslam was more blunt: “Not all developing countries are in the same basket. We are different in terms of emissions and we need to differentiate our commitments.”
A possible signal of inside movement in the BASIC group comes from Tuesday’s press conference, where the Head of the Chinese Delegation, Minister Xie Zhenhua, decided to open his remarks by denying rumours of internal division within the BASIC countries.
Once more, Durban confirms that the real problem is, as always, that climate change progresses at a much faster pace than political decisions.
For Mohamed Aslam, “to postpone action until after 2020 is not acceptable for us” and probably for this reason he decided to thank the EU more than the G77 + China.