Although complete collapse cannot be ruled out, the general shape of a deal is coming together here as the climate talks head into their final day in Durban, South Africa. It’s not the deal that environmentalists want. It’s certainly not the deal that scientists say would be advisable if the goal really is to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, as stated. But it’s an agreement that could allow ministers to kick the can down the road and claim some form of success.
“There’s a landing strip for a deal in sight,” says Tim Gore, International Climate Change Policy Adviser for Oxfam in the United Kingdom. “What’s missing, of course, is how you ramp up ambitions, and that’s a big question.”
Gore says that the European Union and the Group of 77 plus China, the main bloc of developing countries, are converging on a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, which is poised to go dormant at the end of 2012. Similarly, the European Union, the United States and the major developing countries such as China, India and Brazil all seem to be talking about 2020 as a time-frame for additional greenhouse gas reductions that would build on the global agreement inked last year in Cancun, Mexico. What we don’t know is how it will come together.
The EU has so far stuck to its position that it won’t go forward with Kyoto unless there is a roadmap for a global deal that brings everybody — including the United States and the major emerging economies — on board for a legally binding treaty. Despite some indications of a shift in its position, China has yet to reveal whether it will allow itself to be bound by international law. And the United States is still arguing that global treaties are overrated, raising concerns that intransigence on the part of the world’s largest historical emitter could once again block progress across the board.
Speaking defensively after a protester interrupted the US press conference on Thursday, lead negotiator Todd Stern denied that the United States is blocking a deal. Stern waffled four ways before he seemed to indicate in response to questions that the United States has always supported the long-term goal of a legally binding treaty. That led to reports that the United States had changed its position. Hours later, the US State Department quashed all speculation with a simple correction:
“Todd Stern said in his press conference today that the United States could support a process to negotiate a new climate accord. He did not say that the United States supports a legally binding agreement as the result of that process. The EU has supported both a process and the result being a legally binding agreement.”
Some are already gearing up for a showdown much like the one that occurred in Bali, Indonesia, in 2007, under the administration of George W. Bush. There, at the end of a long night, Kevin Conrad of Papua New Guinea told the United States to either step up and take the lead or “get out of the way” (see it on YouTube here). The United States succumbed, but even so, the Bali Roadmap did not commit the United States or the world to a binding treaty. Instead, it committed countries to an “agreed outcome,” which is exactly what the world got — one year late — in Cancun.
The United States isn’t alone. Countries like China, India and Brazil have been equally enigmatic about taking on legal commitments, and they, too, have questioned whether the world needs to immediately embark on a negotiations over a new treaty or wait a few years, get some work done under the present framework and then start a new round of negotiations in 2016. Ultimately few doubt that ministers will sign off on some kind of a roadmap tomorrow night. The question is how far emerging countries will move towards taking on legal commitments, what the timeline will look like and whether the goal is a treaty or another agreed outcome.
In the meantime, huge questions remain about how the world will implement the existing agreement. There’s been progress in setting up the new Green Climate Fund, but negotiators have made little headway in determining how industrialized countries will meet their commitment to ramp up aid for developing countries to US$100 billion annually by 2020. The leading proposal would be some kind of a surcharge on international shipping fuels, but opposition is once again coming from the United States, which says this is the wrong forum to discuss specific funding instruments.
For environmentalists, meanwhile, the biggest question is whether the negotiators will lock in the present commitments until 2020 or leave the door open to deeper emissions cuts before then. “We need a way to revisit and tighten the ambitions of the Cancun agreements before 2020, even if the developed countries aren’t asking for it today,” says Jennifer Haverkamp, head of international climate policy for the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington DC.
Photo credit: www.WanderingGaia.com