Decision time in Durban, outcome as yet unclear

The 9th of December will be remembered as an historical date for the fight against climate change–either for the better or for the worse. The choice lies fully in the hands of ministers and heads of state involved today, and probably tonight, in the final plenary of the COP 17 in Durban and in the decision whether to save the Kyoto Protocol (KP) and the rest of the UN multilateral process or to simply let the KP expire.

Less than 24 hours before the end of the Durban Conference, it would appear that a large majority of countries is in favour of the II Commitment period of the KP and of a further legally binding commitment meant to involve a larger number of countries and emissions controls than the KP. But it is as yet unclear if this can be turned into a consensus-based decision valid for all.
Annie Petsonk, the representative of the NGO Environmental Defence Fund, identifies three possible options for the legal form a new commitment might take.
– The first one, very similar to the EU proposal, is a new Protocol with negotiations starting next year and to be adopted by COP 20 (2014) or by COP 21 (2015).
– The second one is a legally binding instrument, less stringent than the Protocol, without any timetable to conclude the work: this proposal is close to the US position.
– The last one, and the weakest, would involve simply a decision about the next steps: this option appears as the least likely, as it would signify the failure of the multilateral process.

Negotiations continued during the night of 8 December and from the delegates there is positive feedback for an agreement and even rumours of new margins for Russia and Japan to be part of the II Commitment period of the KP.
Karl Hodd, Grenada’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Chair of AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States), reminded everyone of the reason for this meeting during his Thursday speech in the High Level section. “We must lift our sights and not let national interest overtake global interests. I want to challenge you today to demonstrate to the world over the next few days that we have that political will.” He also warned participants to behave in an honourable way: “Let us not speak one thing outside the negotiating room and another inside the room.” Another AOSIS country, Fiji, asked all parties to support a stronger commitment. Samuela Saumatua, Minister for local government, urban development, housing and environment of the island, remarked that “Durban presents a unique chance to renew faith in the multilateral process.”
Hodd used less diplomatic language during the AOSIS press conference, underlining that “there is not enough seriousness in this negotiation,” adding: “if we believe there is a problem on the planet, why don’t we address it?”
This is a feeling shared by many participants. During the same press conference, Saumatua said that in Fiji “we have to relocate people due to costal erosion. It is not a fairy tale, it is reality.” References to the very real consequences of climate change come from several other countries, including the Maldives, Tuvalu, Iceland, Venezuela, Papua New Guinea and Iraq. Most of the speeches in the High Level section sent a clear message: stop the talking and start acting. Soon.
Hood pointed out that scientists are asking for decisive action before 2017 and that there is no point in postponing pledges until after 2020: “We totally reject the hypothesis of 2020. Waiting is a disaster.”
Venezuela used its time to link global warming to capitalist economies. “The market is the problem, not the solution,” said Claudia Salerno Caldera, the special envoy for Climate Change. She repeated what Hugo Chavez said in Copenhagen two years ago. “If climate change had been a bank it would already have been saved…; it is not possible to have money to save the banks and pay for wars but not for climate change and for life”, she said, receiving a loud round of applause.
The urgent plight of some countries was summarized thus by Amberoti Nikora, the Minister of the Environment of Kiribati, a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean: “I hope you’ll have the opportunity to visit my country and to see our children before it is too late.”

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EU praised for its effort to save Kyoto

Planetnext“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.

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