Durban: And the climate dance continues

Nicole Werner
(Photo: Alliance Sud)

Yet another UN climate conference will take place at the end of November in Durban, South Africa. It is the last chance to seamlessly replace the Kyoto Protocol – which expires in 2012 – with a follow-up protocol, warned Nicole Werner, expert on environment and climate of Alliance Sud, focal point of Social Watch in Switzerland.

For years now the international community has been holding negotiations on measures to limit climate change. One year ago in the Mexican city of Cancun they agreed on the target of limiting global warming to 2°C as compared to the pre-industrial age. Yet there is still a wide gap between what is needed and what countries have so far agreed on. It is high time for action, wrote Werner in an article published in Alliance Sud News.

There have been some minor advances in the run-up to Durban, and these could continue at the end of November. There is some movement above all in the negotiations on a new technology transfer mechanism, a standing committee to monitor climate funds for developing countries and on a committee to support developing countries in dealing with the consequences of climate change.

In Cancun the industrialized countries promised the developing countries to provide 100 billion US dollars annually as of 2020 for emission reduction measures and adaptation to climate change. The Conference decided to set up a Green Climate Fund (see box) for that purpose. It is still unclear how the industrialized countries, including Switzerland, intend to finance their contributions. The world economic crisis and the high level of indebtedness of many countries are reason enough to fear that effective climate policy decisions and funding for measures in the South may again be postponed indefinitely.


Fear of eco-protectionism

The developing countries are also resisting unilateral measures by the industrialized countries that could negatively impact their economic development. There are draft laws in the USA and the EU that foresee CO2 taxes on imports and could hit products from the South particularly hard. The planned inclusion of aviation emissions as of 2012 in European emissions trading would also affect airlines from developing countries. Martin Khor, Director of the South Centre in Geneva which advises developing countries, is therefore calling for a forum to be created within the framework of the climate convention. It would be tasked with examining the impacts on poorer countries of emission reduction measures taken in the North and raising them for discussion before such measures are implemented.


Insufficient reduction commitments

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) maintains that if the 2-degree target is to be achieved, annual greenhouse gas emissions would have to be capped at 44 Gigatonnes (Gt) worldwide as of 2020. This would mean a 12 Gt reduction by comparison with a business-as-usual scenario. The maximum promises made by various states under the Copenhagen Agreement and with conditions attached would at best produce a reduction of 7 Gt. That would leave a gap of at least 5 Gt.

If we believe the scientific community, the promised measures would lead to a temperature increase of between 2.5°C and 5°C by the end of this century. Thus, a linear temperature increase could at worst take us past the 2-degree limit as early as 30 years from now. Yet there is still disagreement as to whether a 1.5°C increase in the earth's temperature would not already pose the threat of uncontrollable events with disastrous consequences.


Industrialized countries lag developing countries

The industrialized countries have so far agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 7 to 13 per cent by 2020 (as compared to 1990). According to UNEP, however, it would take at least twice that, i.e. 25 to 40 per cent to achieve the 2-degree target. A further quick reduction to one fifth of worldwide emissions would be needed thereafter by 2050.

According to the International Energy Agency, OECD States account for 40 per cent of all emissions and for 25 per cent of the increase in emissions worldwide. In terms of tonnes, the developing countries are today's biggest emitters, though not in per capita terms: at 10 tonnes per annum, the per capita emissions by OECD countries is almost five times that of the rest of the world. A US American emits on average more than three times as much CO2 as a Chinese.

Although in historic terms developing countries account for only one quarter of climate change, they have promised more emissions reductions than the industrialized countries, according to a study by the Stockholm Environment Institute. China could thus reduce its emissions by twice as much as the USA by 2020. All developing countries taken together could effect reductions three times greater than those promised by the EU. International NGOs are therefore urging the industrialised countries to face up to their responsibilities in Durban and agree to the necessary cuts in emissions by 2020. Besides, they should indicate clearly what steps they plan to take to decarbonize their economies by 2050.


The future of the Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol regulates more than just cuts in emissions by industrialized countries. It also contains mechanisms that enable industrialized countries to support climate protection projects in poorer countries, in fulfilment of their undertakings. Since the Protocol was ratified in 2005, hundreds of projects have come on stream with funding from the CO2 certificate trading system. The expiry of the Protocol next year without a follow-up agreement would also jeopardize many investments and jobs worldwide.

Japan, Canada and Russia have already announced that they do not intend to sign a follow-up agreement. The EU and Switzerland have so far signalled their refusal to sign unless it includes reduction commitments by the major emerging countries as well. It now seems that for Durban, the EU could agree on an extension of the climate agreement to 2018 – provided that it is replaced by a new one that encompasses all major emitters.

Failure to reach agreement in Durban would throw the door wide open to worldwide increases in emissions. The globe could then warm up much more quickly than expected. Hardly anyone would need to wear warm clothing any more.

Alliance Sud: