Tuesday, November 30, 2010


A dismantled train cannot take us to
Climate Sustainability!
Uchita de Zoysa (Convenor – Climate Sustainability PLATFORM)

The whole United Nations effort on sustainability is like a disjointed train ride. While the engine is parked on one track, compartments seem to be running on different tracks and at different speeds with the railway staff trying to steer as many journeys as possible towards sustainability. This has left us passengers stranded not knowing which path leads to sustainability or which train takes us on that journey. The stations too have changed and different roadmaps drawn up since. We now have to figure out which map provides better direction; which one would direct us to the correct station to board the correct train towards sustainability.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was one of those compartments founded at the UNCED in 1992, and therefore became the mandated organization to save humanity from climate change. For the past fifteen years the UNFCCC have spent billions of dollars, burned thousands of tons of fossil fuel in the process of negotiations, and created nightmares in the minds of billions of people about the destitution facing humans on earth. Meanwhile the overall situation for us, the ordinary people, continues to deteriorate, and a new destination called ‘a liveable environment’ is being proposed. The UNFCCC is lost in a journey without a clear destination.

Now Environmental Governance is emerging high within the UN agenda. What they mean is to clean up the mess they have created by fragmenting the sustainable development functions to different agencies with different approaches. They now have realised that it is important to find a way to centrally coordinate all the multilateral environmental agreements (MEA). But by bringing together environmental concerns into one single coordination initiative would also isolate it from the social and economic concerns of sustainable development. Sustainability at the end of the day is what all these negotiations are trying to achieve.

This fragmented approach to governance of global sustainability is why half of the world remains in poverty while the climate is changing. Poverty is a result of the prevailing hypocritical global governance systems that lacks holistic approach and care for all. If people are trapped in poverty and cannot find adequate food and other needs to fulfil their basic livelihood requirements, then the success of facing the climate challenge will be beyond human ability. Also, this would increase the frequency of wars on earth and humanity may finally perish in a combination of climate and poverty related violence.

It appears that it is not hot enough for the establishment to get away from ‘business as usual’. A small group of rich and powerful countries, companies and people continue to drag the rest of us through great grief and a dangerous destiny that would have devastating long term consequences for all. But, the establishment is still convinced that growth, capital accumulation and development could provide answers for the survival of the people who really matter on earth. People who matter are a very few and they control the earth. They consume most of the resources, control the trade and capital, and decide what is best for all of us on earth. The rest of us, especially the half of the world that lives in poverty, is insignificant in the global decision making.

What we need is to get the train back on track towards sustainability. The Southern country compartments are firmly stationed, and demand that the negotiations should consider a route through equity and justice. But, the developed countries do not want to pay anything extra and have held back their due commitments wishing to extend their profits of the current world order. In this stalemate, the UN may well need to rethink their role and responsibilities before the climate negotiations can agree upon sustainability as the logical destination that was found many decades ago. With this destination in mind, getting the train back together to run on a single track may be more important than finding new engines, placing new tracks, setting up new stations and designing new roadmaps. Once the destination is clear, the train is assembled, and the tracks are laid on the mapped pathway, getting to climate sustainability will be better understood. Bon Voyage!

(send your comments to uchita@sltnet.lk for more information on Cancun COP16 see OUTREACH Magazine @ http://www.stakeholderforum.org/sf/outreach/ for more information in Climate Sustainability visit http://www.climatesustainabilityplatform.blogspot.com/ and http://climatesustainability.blogspot.com/)


by Uchita de Zoysa (Convenor – Climate Sustainability PLATFORM)

Those of us who were in Copenhagen a year ago for the COP15 felt like it was a carnival. While the actual negotiations did not produce any result of worth, the Danish government and their stakeholders spent loads of money, energy and resources to make Copenhagen into one big carnival to keep the seventeen thousand plus visitors entertained. It was not just during the the COP15 days, but the entire year had various preparatory events in the city to create a climax for the big carnival at the end of the year. Compared to Copenhagen, the hype around the Cancun COP16 has been rather low. It was difficult to imagine the circus going to be at the end of the year.

The enthusiasm to save the world and have climate justice has not been as high as it was the previous year. Many months ago I asked some climate concerned activists who were in Copenhagen if they plan to go to Cancun. Most of them said ‘NO” and it was obvious why? If Copenhagen that promised a lot came out with close to nothing, then Cancun which is rather low key in news may not result in anything. But, from today, let’s wait and see what the Cancun Climate Circus has to offer the world. A year ago in Copenhagen the Climate Sustainability PLATFORM, a group of people representing regions and stakeholders of the world, demanded that UNFCCC delivers the following;
“Climate and Sustainability need to be addressed together, not decoupled. Therefore, an agreement on Climate Sustainability will be decisive in coming together as one world to reverse decades of irresponsible consumption, production, and trade patterns and to build an equitable, fair, and just world. Climate sustainability must be the shared vision of the UNFCCC because it is the aspiration of the people. Climate Sustainability addresses pressing issues of poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation through relevant strategies for mitigation, adaptation, finance, and technology sharing. Governments must demonstrate political will and vision by signing a binding 'Climate Sustainability Agreement' enforced through strong compliance mechanisms. Only this will empower people to live in harmony with all species in a healthy planet that ensures wellbeing and happiness to all.”

A year later the demand is the same, but the status of the climate negotiations remain as unconvincing as it was. So where are we now? Are we any closer to Climate Sustainability? Absolutely not! In fact are drifting further away from a 2°C destiny that could be a very warm and unpleasant future on earth. Launching my book ‘It has to be CLIMATE SUSTAINABILITY’ in Copenhagen a year ago I said;
"Climate change is a destiny determining phenomenon and all people need to be aware of their rights and responsibilities. But, half of the world's population remains under poverty and is being deprived of their rights towards the basic human needs. Meanwhile, the wasteful lifestyles and irresponsible behaviour of the rich and powerful continues to endanger the life of all humans on earth. A small privileged group continues to negotiate for a climate deal and they separately talk about the sustainability of the planet. By marginalising rest of the population in determining their own destinies, they have left us in destitution. A new world order is emerging, but the people are not involved in designing of it as well. A better world order needs to be created upon the mindful aspirations of the people; and should essentially be based on equitable opportunities for all to find peace, prosperity, sustainability, wellbeing and happiness. Then, it has to be climate sustainability!”

Whilst wishing COP16 in Cancun all the success, our future cannot be based on these negotiations alone and those negotiators. They will find another stop to party each year while delaying commitments. What matters is what rest of the world do to arrest our own sustainable futures. While negotiating climate change continues to be with those without a political will to radically commit to the challenge, we meanwhile need to find our own climate sustainability futures.

(send your comments to uchita@sltnet.lk
for more information on Cancun COP16 see OUTREACH Magazine @ http://www.stakeholderforum.org/sf/outreach/
for more Information on Climate Sustainability visit: http://www.climatesustainabilityplatform.blogspot.com/ and http://climatesustainability.blogspot.com/)

Monday, November 29, 2010

What To Expect in Cancun:

climate change has sunk in just a year in the world's political agenda

Martin Khor, (Cancun, 28 November, www.twnside.org.sg)

A year after the chaotic Copenhagen summit, the 2010 UNFCCC climate conference begins in Cancun. Expectations are low this time around, especially compared to the eve of Copenhagen.

That's probably both good and bad. The conference last year had been so hyped up before hand, with so much hope linked to it, that the lack of a binding agreement at the end of it and the last-day battle over process and text made it a near-disaster.

Few expect this year's meeting in the seaside resort of Cancun to produce anything significant in commitments either to cut Greenhouse Gas emissions or to provide funds to developing countries. Thus if Cancun ends with few significant decisions, it won't be taken as a catastrophe. It will however be seen as the multilateral system not being able to meet up to the challenge. And that system will be asked to try harder, next year.

The atmosphere at the end of the meeting will of course be crucial. The events, especially at the Ministerial segment, and how the presence of heads of states is handled, should be organised in a transparent and inclusive way, without the surprises of Copenhagen. That way, Cancun will end with the goodwill needed to carry on the work, even if there are no spectacular outcomes here.

It would be unwise (to say the least) to try a repeat (or a variation) of the exclusive high-level small-group process of selected political leaders that clashed with the inclusive multilateral negotiating process in the last days of Copenhagen, and that produced the chaotic ending.

The process in the first week, when negotiators are expected to work hard on the 13 August text and the Tianjin revisions to text, that were both member-driven, will also be important. An inclusive, transparent process driven by members themselves is required. Even if this takes time, it is time well invested. Attempts to shorten this process by methods not agreed to or that are not transparent may instead produce a short circuit and a fire, waste even more time and result in loss of goodwill and confidence.

The lowering of expectations
On the other hand, the lowering of expectations indicates how low climate change has sunk in just a year in the world's political agenda. And that is bad indeed, because the climate problem has got even worse.

2010 is already rivaling 1998 as the hottest year since records were kept. And there have been so many natural disasters in 2010; some of them like the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan are linked to climate change.

Other events, especially the spread of the financial crisis to Western Europe, and the persistent high unemployment in the United States despite economic growth, have taken over the attention of the politicians and public in the developed countries. The counter-attack by climate skeptics in questioning the science, and by politicians that don't like climate actions, has also affected the public mood to some extent.

Also, the chances of getting a global climate change agreement appear much more dim, as the issues are shown up to be more difficult and complex than earlier envisaged. And when a problem seems intractable, most politicians tend to lose interest because like other people they don't like to be associated with failure. And the problems in the negotiations are many, and they will re-emerge again in Cancun. While the need to address climate change is urgent, there is also the need for patience in getting a successful outcome.

The Fate and Shape of the Global Climate Regulatory Regime
The main problem is the inability of the United States administration to make a meaningful commitment to cut its country's emissions to an adequate extent, because it is now clear that Congress will not adopt a comprehensive climate bill.

This makes the other developed countries reluctant to firm up their own commitments, or even retain the existing regulated system. Many of them are still dragging their feet in stating how much they should cut their emissions, individually and as a group, in the Kyoto Protocol's second period that is to start in 2013.

Worse, Russia and Japan have openly stated they do not want to continue with the Kyoto Protocol, because the US is not in it and major developing countries do not have to join the binding disciplines. A most depressing Kyodo agency news item was published on the eve of Cancun, under the headline “Japan will oppose Kyoto extension at COP16.” It quotes a Vice Minister and senior climate negotiator as saying Japan will not agree to extend Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 even if it means isolating itself at the UN.

Australia, New Zealand and Canada among others have also been unwilling or reluctant to commit to Kyoto's second period. That leaves the European Union, which says it prefers to shift to a new system too but is still open to remaining in Kyoto if others do. Only Norway has said firmly it agrees to a second Kyoto period.

The death of the Kyoto Protocol, under which the developed countries except the US have legally-binding targets to cut their emissions, is something the developing countries cannot accept. They want the developed countries to cut their emissions as a group by more than 40% by 2020 (compared to 1990), and for each country to do an adequate cut, under the Kyoto Protocol. The figures have to be re-calculated to fit 2013-2017 as the second period proposed by the G77 and China.

The US was supposed to take on a “comparable effort” in mitigation as the other developed countries, but under the Convention since it is not a KP member. Para 1b(i) of the Bali Action Plan was designed for that.

This was a crucial part of the overall understanding on mitigation reached in Bali: (1) that the Annex I parties in KP would take on adequate 2nd period commitments on aggregate and individual reduction targets consistent with what science requires; (2) that the US would make its own comparable commitment in the Convention, in accordance with Para 1b(i); and (3) developing countries would undertake enhanced mitigation actions with financial and technological support, both of which would be measurable, reportable and verifiable (MRV).

This three-piece Bali understanding is now unraveling with alarming speed. The KP is in mortal danger, as most of its Annex I members show clear signs of abandoning ship. The new vehicle they are looking to join is vastly inferior. It is the voluntary pledge system that the US had been advocating, in which individual developed countries state how much reduction they would like to set as their target.

In the system, there is no aggregate target to be set in accordance with what the science says is required. There is no mechanism to review the commitments (individual and aggregate) and to get Parties to revise them so that they meet adequate levels. The mild discipline is that there will be a periodic review on whether the Parties meet their pledged targets, but not a review as to whether the pledges are adequate.

There has been a major battle, quite indirect and under the radar screen at first and then fierce and open after that, over the model of climate regime for Annex I mitigation -- the KP model of binding aggregate and individual cuts versus the pledge and review voluntary system. At Bali the first model was adopted, but increasingly challenged in the many 2009 sessions before Copenhagen. Then the fight reached a boiling point in Copenhagen, when the US-led pledge system gained an upper hand for the first time when the Copenhagen Accord seemed to be firmly on the side of the pledge system, in its Para 4.

However, the balance of forces in this battle of models was to some extent restored after Copenhagen when the major developing countries that assisted in the birth of the Accord reaffirmed that they needed the KP to continue into a second period, and that they wanted the binding system of aggregate and individual commitments that are comparable, and with reduction figures consistent with the science. The EU has indicated it also wants this binding system; this is important as the EU is a prime architect and was a champion of this system. For these Parties, para 4 of the Accord and the binding system are complementary and not contradictory.

For the developing countries the retention of the binding system for Annex I parties is a touchstone, a Litmus Test to prove that those that are responsible for most of the stock of emissions in the atmosphere, are serious about the much-proclaimed “taking leadership in the fight against climate change.” If the developed countries downgrade their mitigation commitment from a binding system based on adequate efforts, to a voluntary pledge system without a review of adequacy, then it would be tantamount to giving up leadership, and to a deregulation of the system, and at the worst possible time -- when there is growing scientific and empirical evidence of the seriousness of the climate problem.

Disastrous Projection of Pledges
Top climate scientists in a new UN Environment Programme report show how disastrously off-mark such a voluntary system can be. Instead of cutting their emissions by at least 25-40% below 1990 levels in 2020 as required (or by more than 40%, as demanded by developing countries), the developed countries will actually increase their emission by 6% in a bad scenario (based on the lower end of pledges and the use of loopholes) or will only cut by 16% in the good scenario (based on the upper end of pledges and without the use of loopholes). The calculations are based on the pledges the developed countries made under the Copenhagen Accord.

These pledges, together with the figures from announcements made by some developing countries, show that the world is moving in the direction of a global temperature increase of between 2.5 to 5 degrees Celsius before the end of this century, according to the UNEP report. This is far removed from the 1.5 or 2 degree “safe limit”, and is a recipe for catastrophe.

In 2005 the global emissions level is estimated at 45 Giga tonnes (i.e. 45 billion tonnes) of CO2 equivalent and in 2009 it is estimated at 48 Gton. With business as usual, this will rise to 56 Gton in 2020, which is on the road to disaster. The scientists in the UNEP study agree that emissions have to be limited to 44 GtCO2e by 2020 to stay on a 2 degree limitation course. Based on the Copenhagen Accord pledges, the emissions in 2020 could be 49 Gton under a good scenario, but as high as 53 Gton (almost like business-as-usual) in the bad scenario.

It is evident that all groups of countries have to contribute to improving this disastrous situation. However the Annex I countries are obliged to take the lead, and show the way. But their pledges so far are deficient, as a group. And the intended downgrading of the regulated system to a deregulated system goes in the wrong direction.

A major turn-around in the attitude of most developed counties towards their own emission reduction will be the most important and the hardest problem to resolve in Cancun.

The Obligations Proposed for Developing Countries
Another contentious issue will be the proposed new obligations to be placed on developing countries. At Bali, it was agreed the developing countries would enhance their mitigation actions, and have those actions that are internationally supported to be subjected to MRV. The finance and technology support provided by developed countries would also be subjected to MRV. The mitigation actions that developing countries fund themselves do not have to be subjected to an international MRV system.

However Bali-Plus obligations on developing countries are also now being proposed by developed countries. These proposed obligations include an “international consultation and analysis” (ICA) system to be applied to mitigation actions that are unsupported, and a much more rigorous system of reporting on overall mitigation actions through national communications (once in four years) and supplementary reports (once in two years). Since the most important elements of the national communications are also to be in the supplementary reports, this in effect means reporting once in two years.

The Bali-plus obligations also include proposals by the EU that developing countries together have a mitigation target of “deviation from business as usual” by 15-30% by 2020. And many developing countries have voluntarily announced targets for reducing emissions growth, reducing the emissions-GNP intensity, or even reducing emissions.

The situation has become complicated. There are many developing countries which did not sign on to the Copenhagen Accord, so the need to undertake ICA does not apply to them, unless the ICA becomes accepted by all. Many of the developing countries that associated with the Accord do not agree with the stringent MRV and ICA systems proposed by the developed countries, as reflected as options in the various texts.

More importantly, the MRV concept was agreed to as part of the three-element Bali understanding on mitigation that includes the KP continuing into a second period, and the US making a comparable commitment under the Convention. These two crucial parts of the understanding involve the commitments of developed countries and they are now under threat. Many developing countries are questioning why they should continue to agree to upgrading their obligations if developed countries are wanting to downgrade their own system of commitments.

Another obligation that developed countries are seeking to place on developing countries is to give the latter a large contributory role in the overall meeting of long-term global emissions goals, such as a 50% global cut by 2050 compared with 1990. If Annex I countries take on a 80% reduction, while the global goal is a 50% reduction, this means developing countries would have to undertake a per capita emissions cut of over 50%, and a “deviation from business as usual” of over 80%.

These are very onerous targets for developing countries, which also have priorities for economic development. Their development prospects would suffer if the targets designed for them are accepted, unless there is a sufficiently massive transfer of financing and technology. The implications of these targets are still not fully understood. The discussions on a global goal are taking place in the shared vision issue.

Cancun Deliverables? New Structures in Finance, Technology and Adaptation
Developing countries are also saying they are willing to enhance their mitigation actions and to prepare more detailed reports, but they need the funds and affordable access to new technologies to do these. The provision of finance and technology, which are commitments of the developed countries, is also needed for adaptation and capacity building.

The possible bright spot in Cancun could be a decision to create a new climate fund in the UNFCCC and under the authority of the Conference of Parties. The discussion on this is quite advanced. Agreement to establish the new fund would be a limited gain, as the details of the fund (including its governance and the amounts it will have) would still have to be worked out later, through a process that Cancun can also decide on.

Nevertheless, it would be an advance if Cancun can make this significant decision to establish the new fund. But Cancun may be deprived of even such a simple outcome. The US made clear in Tianjin, and this was confirmed by a recent speech by its special climate envoy Todd Stern, that there cannot be an “early harvest” in Cancun such as setting up a fund.

For the US to agree to that, there must be a Cancun agreement on mitigation, in which developing countries agree to the stringent obligations on reporting and international analysis, and in which developed countries undertake a pledge and review system.

At Cancun, it can be expected there will be an appeal to the US to allow the fund to be set up, and not to tie this to conditions that its demands in other areas be met first. The US will be told not take the funds that can get actions going in the developing world as “hostage” or conditional on its getting its way in other areas of the negotiations.

On technology transfer, another key issue for developing countries, there has been progress on the technology mechanism to be set up, an Executive Body and a Centre and Network. Again, a decision to establish these bodies is within reach in Cancun, and it should not be stalled on the ground that progress must first be made in other areas.

The developing countries also want a new Adaptation Committee as well as a new international mechanism to address loss and damage caused by climate change. This has yet to be agreed to.

If Cancun can deliver the establishment of these new structures in finance, technology and adaptation, it would have something to show, and we would not leave empty handed. These are only relatively small measures, but they are still significant, if only to demonstrate that there are still results possible from international cooperation in climate change. If these are not delivered in Cancun, the smoke signals to the world will not be good at all.

(Note: Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Centre)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

news flash


An article series by Uchita de Zoysa will be produced for the OUTREACH magazine during the COP16 in Cancun from 29 November to 9th December 2010. Through these articles voices of the ‘Climate Sustainability PLATFFORM’ will be raised from across the world. These articles and other member statements will be published in this blog and ciculated to hundreds of organizations across the world during these two weeks. Pl send your opinion, statements and recommendations to uchita@sltnet.lk

"Nations won’t be able to agree on a legally binding climate treaty this year at Cancun COP16"

- U.S. chief climate negotiator Todd Stern

By Karin Rives Staff Writer

Washington 23 November 2010 — Nations won’t be able to agree on a legally binding climate treaty this year, but they can make progress in a number of key areas that could — “maybe” — lead to a final deal next year, the U.S. chief climate negotiator said.

“What we’re seeking now in Cancún is a balanced package of decisions,” U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern told international journalists in Washington on November 22. “Rather than insisting on a legal treaty before anything happens, we should move down the pragmatic path of concrete operational decisions.”

The United Nations-led 16th Conference of the Parties (COP-16) in Cancún, Mexico, between November 29 and December 10, will be the biggest climate meeting of the year in hopes of taking negotiations forward.

The immediate goal, Stern said, is to make good on nonbinding commitments made at last year’s climate summit in Copenhagen.

If done right, he said, representatives from 192 countries could set up a “green fund” that will handle financial climate assistance to developing countries, start implementing significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, put in place a system of transparency and accountability, and rapidly advance climate-adaptation and forest-protection programs.

A key provision of the nonbinding Copenhagen Accord, drafted by the world’s largest economies at the 2009 summit, required developed countries to raise $30 billion from 2010 to 2012 to assist developing countries. This so-called “fast track” pot of money for developing countries, many of which are already grappling with the effects of climate change, would be followed by a much larger commitment of $100 billion annually by 2020.


More than 110 countries have signed on to the nonbinding Copenhagen Accord to fight climate change.

The U.S. Department of State released a fact sheet November 22 showing that the United States spent $1.7 billion in 2010 on fast-track financing programs in developing countries.

Climate assistance from the State and Treasury departments, along with the U.S. Agency for International Development, more than tripled from $316 million in fiscal year 2009 to about $1 billion in fiscal year 2010, which ended September 30. Over the same period, the three agencies increased their assistance for nations adapting to climate change tenfold to reach $244 million.

“This financing is being used in a range of projects all around the world, from adaptation activities in Africa and the small island states, to assisting Indonesia with efforts to reduce deforestation, to helping Andean countries address the impacts of tropical glacier retreat,” Stern said. “In our view, these investments are not only good for developing countries, they are important for our own economic, environmental and national security well-being.”

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) should remain the venue for future negotiations, Stern said. “It has history and credibility on its side and we should try to make progress there.”

But, Stern said, “It is incumbent on all countries there who want the UNFCCC to remain the venue for climate negotiations to make it work because year after year of stalemate will inevitably lead to a migration to other places. … That’s not something that the United States is looking for.”


The United States, the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, announced last year it will reduce emissions 17 percent by 2020. Stern said he believes the country will meet that target as new vehicle-emissions standards and restrictions on factory emissions take hold and regulators and lawmakers continue to look for alternatives to fossil fuels.

Comprehensive climate change legislation will likely remain stalled in Congress, but there could still be pieces of energy and environmental legislation passed that contribute to a reduction in U.S. emissions, he said.

A Norwegian journalist asked whether the recent election of some members of Congress who openly question the science behind climate change will affect U.S. climate commitments and diplomacy. Stern said the question keeps coming up and that he’s been responding with a long-ago quote from a former New York senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

“Everybody is entitled to their opinions, but they’re not entitled to their own facts,” Stern said. “And that’s something some of our friends in Congress are going to have to learn.”

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov Read more: http://www.america.gov/st/energy-english/2010/November/20101123131024nirak3.091067e-02.html#ixzz16RrbIeNN

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Climate for Cancun
The worst risks of climate change can only be avoided by the acceptance that we are in one lifeboat
Nitin Desai / November 18, 2010, 0:35 IST
About 10 days from today, the parties to the UN climate convention will have another bash at hammering out an agreement to avert what they all agree is one of the gravest threats that the world faces in the decades ahead. Is there any chance that they will do better there than at Copenhagen about a year go?
The elements of an international agreement needed to address the threat of climate change are basically as follows:
  • The acceptable limit for the likely temperature increase.
  • The implied time profile of global carbon dioxide and other GHG emissions.
  • The distribution of allowable global emissions among countries.
  • The commitments to programmes and policies that contain emissions to the agreed level.
  • The mechanisms that would allow flexibility in fulfilling commitments.
  • The mechanisms that would support adaptation actions.
  • The financial and technology transfer arrangements for compensating countries which take on more than their fair share of obligations.
The Copenhagen Accord includes a commitment to the goal of containing the likely average global temperature increase to 2º C. The time profile of global emissions needed to meet this goal is not uniquely defined as what matters are cumulative emissions. A path where emission reductions are low initially but accelerate later may have the same cumulative impact over decades as a path that paces the emission reductions more evenly. Be that as it may, a rough summary of the results of a variety of modelling studies is that:
  • Global emissions must peak sometime between 2015 and 2021.
  • Global emissions in 2020 should be approximately 40.0 to 48.3 Gt CO2 eq/yr.
  • By 2050 global emissions should decrease by 48 to 72 per cent relative to 2000.

Moving from these global goals to national action is the core of the negotiating agenda and we are nowhere near an agreement on this. The pledges and commitments associated with the Copenhagen Accord add up to emissions of 48.8 to 51.2 Gt CO2 eq/yr in 2020 and in the words of a UNEP brief, “there is low confidence that the two-degree limit will be met”*. The US pledge is a little up in the air as the Bill to give effect to it has not been passed. The main plus point is that the process has led to the announcement of goals for emission containment in the form of carbon intensity reductions by countries like China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and Mexico. There are a whole slew of issues like the legal form of the commitments and the monitoring, reporting and verification requirements that complicate the negotiations even further. 

The central issue is that of equity in the sharing of scarce environmental space. Unfortunately, there is no agreed interpretation of fairness. The UNFCCC recognises the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility”, the historical culpability of industrial countries which account for the bulk of the increase in ambient GHGs since the industrial revolution and the primacy of development for developing countries. But all this needs to be spelt out in terms of emission goals for countries. One concept under discussion in seminars, if not in the negotiations, is convergence to equal per capita emissions by a target date, say 2050, at a level consistent with containing emissions to ensure a 50 per cent chance of keeping the average global temperature increase to 2º C. India has already offered that it would ensure that its per capita emissions never exceeded the average for the developed countries, so that any action by them to reduce their emissions very substantially would act as a brake on India’s emission growth. Another concept that has received some attention lately is that of carbon budgeting where the available room for carbon emissions, given agreed goals on temperature increase risks, would be shared as a stock on the basis of population. A more contentious proposal would do this but also take account of cumulative use from past emissions.
Announced goals for emission reduction or containment are just aspirations and what matters is the translation of these into action. In the next decade, the main source of reductions will be energy efficiency and carbon sequestration through forest protection and reforestation. On forestry, the negotiations seem to be making good progress and there is also some real money in sight from Norway and others. If this is pursued separately and if an agreement on energy efficiency is stitched together at Cancun as part of some advance action even before a full agreement is reached, then we may well be back on the two-degree track.
Flexibility mechanisms that allow companies and countries to “buy compliance” by financing carbon saving actions by others are an attempt that purists frown upon and Pareto optimising economists love. At present, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is the main such avenue and its future beyond 2012 is in doubt because of the failure to agree on the next phase of commitments under the protocol. But the carbon market in a broader sense may still survive as long as there is some quantitative compliance obligation, even if it is nationally determined, that can be met by buying carbon credits.
On adaptation, financing of mitigation actions by developing countries and technology transfer, the Copenhagen Accord signalled some advance. But the subsequent processes, including the high level panel set up by the UN secretary general, have not brought us any closer to an agreement.
The prospects for closure at Cancun are not at all bright and everyone assumes that the game will go on at least for another year if not more. The world has become a victim of the normal framework of reciprocal concessions that dominates international negotiations and the “nothing is agreed till everything is agreed” rule. A mindset that starts from the ethical premise that national interest trumps all other considerations can never deliver an effective environmental agreement. We need sovereignty bargains in which each state surrenders some autonomy of action in order to acquire some influence on the policies of other states.
In the final analysis, the worst risks of climate change can only be avoided by the acceptance that we are in one lifeboat and that steering it to safety requires that those who are most able put in a greater effort and those who are less able do what they can to avoid destabilising the boat.