In The Field

Barcelona climate: Monitoring the (same old) debate

I’m sitting in the plenary session of the Kyoto Protocol, listening to an old debate over the baseline year used to assess emissions. The protocol is currently tied to 1990 emissions, but Japan, Australia and Canada have all suggested that expressing emissions reductions according to multiple baselines might be useful.

The logic is that although the Kyoto Protocol is tied to 1990, many countries – including the United States – are now pegging their climate proposals to more recent years. That has the advantage of providing a picture of what each country plans to do moving forward. The US and European proposals, for instance, actually look similar using a 2005 baseline (for more on that, see our earlier coverage here). On the other hand, many – including Europeans – have long argued that using new baselines would dilute the protocol and potentially let countries like off the hook (in addition to the United States, think Canada, which has acknowledged it cannot meet its Kyoto targets).

Today, like so many other days, the parties were unable to resolve the matter. Japan’s proposal to illustrate the commitments in tabular form drew initial objections, particularly from China, which said any effort to shift away from the legally binding 1990 baseline would be “totally not acceptable.” But those backing the proposal’s supporters said there should be a way to ensure that the 1990 baseline remains while noting additional baselines. The idea of using “footnotes” came up.

Discussions about the relative merits of footnotes versus charts seem a bit silly, to be sure, but the issue has been a sticking point for a long time. Some kind of resolution will be necessary in whatever emerges from Copenhagen.

The discussion eventually hit the big issue of emissions targets. The Alliance of Small Island States, which fears the dual impacts of acidification and rising sea levels, led the way by adding up all of the developed country targets (including legislation being debated in the United States) for a grand total of 12-19 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. That compares to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s analysis indicating that a 25-40 percent reduction might be necessary by 2020. And AOSIS is actually pushing for 45 percent cut, to increase the likelihood of keeping temperature increase below 1.5 degrees instead of the generally accepted 2-degree target.

As expected, no headway was made on this issue either, but it does lead into my next posting.


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