Climate Change: The Rich North Won’t Show its Cards

by Martin Khor*

In the last round of negotiations about climate change, which was held at the start of the month in Bangkok, the developing countries of the South asked the countries of the industrialized North to definitively clarify once and for all whether they wish to remain within the limits of Kyoto Protocol or renounce the convention, writes Martin Khor, executive director of South Centre.

THE United Nations’ climate talks resumed last week in Bangkok. There was a lot of drama, with developing countries throwing a challenge to developed countries to proclaim themselves once and for all, whether they intend to continue with the Kyoto Protocol or to kill it.

This North-South battle had already been boiling the whole of last year, especially at the big climate conference in Cancun in December, when Japan brazenly stated it had no intention to join a second period of the protocol, after its first period expires in 2012.

Japan’s announcement had evoked outrage among the developing countries, especially since the country had hosted the meeting that created the Kyoto Protocol (KP). The KP is the main pillar of the UN Climate Convention; all the developed countries (except the United States) have made legal commitments under it to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases.

Eliminate the KP, and there is little or no teeth left in the convention to hold the rich countries to their emission-reduction pledges.

India reminded an official workshop that the developed countries have put three quarters of the greenhouse gases (that are causing the climate crisis) in the atmosphere, they are still over-polluting, and they should bear the main responsibility for global gas reductions.

Japan’s Cancun pronouncement was the important tip of the iceberg because several others (including Russia, Canada, Australia) are also known to want to abandon the KP, while the United States being a non-member seems delighted at their wanting to jump ship.

But the cracks in the global climate regime were papered over at the end of Cancun to prevent another high-profile breakdown, after the traumatic Copenhagen conference the year before.

Last week, the developing countries got their act together and challenged the developed countries which are members of the KP whether they are committed to a second period.

The tiny island state of Tuvalu (which will be covered by rising seawater when climate change takes effect) made the first challenge. It called on parties who wished to continue with the KP to stand up and say so; those who do not do so should leave the room.


Its call for a political decision to be made explicit now was supported by an overwhelming number of developing countries, including the least developed countries, small island states, the African and Arab groups, China, the Philippines, Bolivia and Saudi Arabia.


The Group of 77 and China led by Argentina said the adoption of the KP’s second period was the key to success at the next Climate Conference in South Africa in December. It was a political imperative and also a legal obligation that must be met.

Many developing countries stressed there was no point in going round in circles on technical issues and it was time for a political decision. The Philippines said the KP was “in an intensive care unit and that instead of being given life-saving oxygen, its respirators are connected to a tank of carbon-dioxide”.

The countries also said that if there was no commitment to a second KP period, there was little point in negotiating other issues in the parallel working group on long-term cooperative action (LCA).

Under this group, developed countries have put developing countries under intense pressure to take emission-reduction actions.

The Arab Group said that agreeing on KP’s second period was sine qua non for agreement under the LCA track. This view was echoed by the African Group.

At a subsequent session, European countries (backed by Australia and New Zealand) stated there were conditions to be met for them to commit to a second period. These included adequate actions by other countries and agreements on rules on how their pledges should take account of land use and market mechanisms.

There was a deafening silence from Japan and Russia, the two countries explicitly opposed to joining a KP second period.

Commenting on the conditions, Saudi Arabia asked how KP parties could force actions from non-members before committing to the second period. This seemed an indirect way of not accepting a second period.

China said if the pre-conditions are aimed at enhancing the levels of emissions reduction, then the technical aspects can be discussed. But if the pre-condition was linked to whether or not to undertake a second commitment period, there was no room for discussion.

Meanwhile, the LCA group spent the whole week in intense battle over the agenda for this year’s work. Some developed countries led by the United States wanted only an agenda to follow up on the Cancun conference decisions.

But the G77 and China argued that this would be a selective choice of issues. The mandate of negotiations was still the Bali Action Plan, adopted in Bali in December 2007, which launched the group and the current negotiations.

Many key issues (such as the adequacy of emission-reduction commitments of all developed counties, including the United States; the need to avoid trade protection on climate grounds; the issue of patents and technology transfer) were not resolved in Cancun and should be included in the talks, according to the developing countries.

Not so, said the other side. What was explicitly stated in Cancun for follow-up work are the only agenda items.

At the last hours in Bangkok, the developing countries won the agenda battle. It was agreed that the Bali Action Plan would remain as the framework for future talks.

It is an indication of the state of disarray and confusion of the global climate talks, that it took a week of tumultuous negotiations to persuade some developed countries to agree to retain the original mandate and agenda that launched the negotiations in the first place.

There is a deep divide on how to go about solving what is arguably the Number One problem in the world. That makes the climate talks so painful to watch.

The silver lining is that the developing countries got their act together again, after suffering a blow to their interests in Cancun.

*Executive Director of South Centre
Source: Agenda Global