Fabricio Vanden Broeck
Fighting Climate Change Demands Cooperation Now and Beyond 2012
By Raúl Estrada-Oyuela*
Nobody is negotiating or making concessions ahead of deadline, says Raúl Estrada Oyuela, one of the authors of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, in this exclusive column for Tierramérica.
SANTIAGO, Jun 30 (Tierramérica).- The international community decided to improve its response to climate change through a global process for "the full, effective and sustained implementation of the 1992 Convention," with cooperation that begins now and will last beyond 2012.
This was resolved at the meeting in December 2007 in Bali, Indonesia. The negotiations will be complex. Is it possible to overcome opposition and seek a reasonable stabilization of the climate? This question describes the challenge, and the answer can be reasonably positive.
Since 1800, the accumulation of greenhouse-effect gases grows at an ever-faster pace. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol was a modest attempt to reduce in the 2008-2012 period the industrialized countries' emissions five percent based on their 1990 levels. That is the equivalent of about 4.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide, but it will be completely annulled by the emissions increases of the United States, which did not ratify the treaty.
Nor does it help that the Protocol takes 1990 emissions as the baseline, because it thus assigns to then-centrally planned countries emissions levels above what they in fact produced in 1997. This causes an excess of "carbon credits" or "tons of paper" that in reality never existed.
Furthermore, developing countries, because they do not have quantified commitments, have increased their greenhouse gas emissions, to the point that in 2008 China is emitting more than the United States.
Climate change cannot be stopped or reversed. The curbing of emissions is only to mitigate what cannot be avoided.
Droughts, floods, storms and cyclones that are unusually frequent and severe in all parts of the world are the kind of events predicted as consequences of climate change.
This makes it necessary to take steps towards adaptation in the production and consumption of goods and services and in land use in order to prevent human settlement in fragile areas.
The decision to step up the response to climate change shows that governments have greater awareness of the problem, thanks to information produced by the scientific community and the actions of civil society.
In formulating the response, complex negotiations have begun with the aim of achieving an agreement in 2009. There are decentralized attempts that do not appear destined to succeed. The principal is multilateral and takes place in the sphere of climate agreements: the Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol.
This establishes the 2008-2012 commitment period and indicates the routes for a subsequent commitment period (Article 3.9) and for updating with new knowledge (Article 9).
The negotiation of the second commitment period was launched in December 2005 in Montreal and is occurring without the United States. But the broader exercise for the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention does indeed include that country.
The industrialized countries want the larger developing countries -- China, India, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico and Indonesia -- to make quantified commitments for emissions reduction, but these nations have refused, and insist that the Kyoto Protocol's targets are only for the industrialized world.
It is true that there are basic needs to be met in the developing mega-countries, but it is also true that their current conditions are not those of 1992, and it seems rational to take into account their financial, technological and market growth.
Also under discussion are the future modalities of the Clean Development Mechanism, intended to facilitate the reduction of emissions using market-based tools, but for which neither the volume of transactions nor the transfer of technology has lived up to expectations.
In the negotiations under the auspices of the Convention we can expect the greatest innovations, particularly the entry of the United States into a system of specific and quantified commitments, and the possibility that the current emissions targets per country will be complemented by emissions standards for economic sectors of each country.
The European Union strenuously proposes that the world prevent the planet's average temperature from rising two degrees Celsius and reduce emissions 20 percent by 2020. Japan, Canada, Norway and Russia are reluctant on future commitments.
The key responses should emerge from merging multilateral negotiations that today are conducted separately and from the position taken by the future government of the United States, which will be elected in November.
President George W. Bush's refusal to fight climate change has slowed the development of new technologies and has had serious consequences for the increase in emissions.
Presidential candidates Barack Obama (Democrat) and John McCain (Republican) agree on the need to limit emissions and facilitate negotiations of carbon credits. The details of their stances are complicated. The bill debated by the U.S. Senate earlier this month was 160 pages long.
But it is unlikely that climate change will be the foreign policy priority of the United States in early 2009.
Eighteen months before the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, we were not much more advanced in the negotiations than we are today. Nobody is negotiating or making concessions ahead of time. Back then, we were awaiting the November 1996 elections in the United States in order to advance, because U.S. participation is always critical for any global action.
* President of the Argentine Academy of Environmental Sciences and Argentina's former special representative for environmental negotiations.