Climate Change - Faltering Negotiations (?)

Statement  by : Ambassador Dr Palitha Kohona, Permanent Representative of Sri Lankato the UN in New York

Pace Law School - Pace University

The Durban Conference in December 2011 was another step in the tortured negotiations designed to address the ever growing threat of climate change with its attendant consequences of sea level rise, glacier melt, drying of forests, peat lands and the tundra, unprecedented forest and peat fires, changing weather patterns and unusual climatic phenomena. All of which will have major consequences for human habitats, employment, agriculture, global tourism, food security, and in some cases, the very existence of countries. The threat of climate refugees is beginning to loom large. The overwhelming majority in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has taken the view that human induced causes are responsible for global warming. Without doubt, the consequences of this change will be felt mostly by those who are least capable of responding to them, the poor in the world.

After much tortured negotiations that set a record for Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings, (the longest COP ever!), the 17th UN Convention on Climate Change COP in Durban produced a modest outcome. A bemused Sri Lankan delegate observed that it was like digging a mighty mountain and finding a tiny mouse. COP 17 thankfully did not set out to achieve ambitious emissions reductions goals (like COP 15 in Copenhagen) or to address the problem of climate change in one fell swoop. The grand expectations articulated in the lead-up to COP 15 at Copenhagen were themselves a major reason for its failure. The negotiating approach of taking only some delegations into confidence by the Chair produced widespread disenchantment, especially among many developing countries. Long ingrained political attitudes did not assist in encouraging a cooperative approach.

With constraints imposed by current global realities (the continuing financial crises, particularly in Europe, looming elections in the US, widespread unemployment and cut backs of social entitlements in many developed countries, etc), the modest Durban outcomes left many delegates unhappy, especially those from the developing South, and many island states fearing for their very survival. The US which is still the major emitter of green house gasses was not in a position to take too many bold steps and, unsurprisingly, expressed satisfaction with this modest result. There was little desire on the part of the US to add another issue to a domestic election campaign which was already focused on the depressing economic situation and the unemployment burden. The UK hailed the success of European diplomacy. The EU which had hoped for a better outcome was not exactly jubilant but acknowledged the minor advances made. Unfortunately, the tone of the meeting was still of "doing a deal", not of sympathetically addressing a problem which will impact on the very existence of a number of countries and the future of millions of poor. The end to the negotiations and agreement on the outcomes came early on Sunday morning, on 11 December, after many developing country delegations had left for home on Friday night or on Saturday. This has given rise to many complaints on the part of developing countries for being excluded from the tense final phase of the negotiations. 

Importantly, the key outcome of COP 17 was the agreement on the Durban Platform which includes establishing an Ad Hoc Working Group for Enhanced Action (AWG - DP). The AWG-DP is mandated to develop a "protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all the parties". Somewhat unclear, this is intended to be the post Kyoto framework to be completed by 2015 and to take effect in 2020, hopefully containing more ambitious emissions reductions commitments for all parties. India, which had resisted to the bitter end, and other major developing countries, accepted this formula in the end because of the possibility that it would be a platform from which to address their concerns. The AWG-DP is expected to begin work in the first half of 2012. The AWG-DP will provide an opportunity for developing countries to make a serious input in to the debate. At the negotiations (and in the lead up), the US resisted agreeing to a legally binding instrument (a possible negative domestic reaction in a difficult economic environment may be the underlying reason) while the EU pushed for one to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

The developing countries which had argued for a legally binding agreement in the lead up to Durban, balked at the content of what the EU proposed. This negative reaction was to be expected as the Durban Platform omitted the principles of equity and the Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), language long incorporated in international climate change instruments and used as shorthand for not making developing countries commit to emissions reduction targets. The clear principle was that those who had polluted the atmosphere since the industrial revolution, following a development model which now criticised, had the clear responsibility to address it in the first instance. The burden of addressing the problem should not be passed on to those who were just beginning scramble along the road to industrialisation and thereby deprive them of the benefits of achieving development. This was a major set back from a developing country perspective as these principles, clearly reflected in the Rio Declaration, had been part of the established expectations framework for climate change negotiations for many years. The AWG-DP will now need to take this bull by the horns. While the Kyoto Protocol has been extended, the length of the post Kyoto commitments periods are unclear and are still to be determined, raising the question whether the Kyoto Protocol is now history.

In addition, the Durban Platform operationalized the Green Climate Fund (GCF), agreed at Cancun, by laying out the process for its implementation. The GCF will have a legal personality and its secretariat will be an autonomous unit within the UNFCCC Secretariat. The Board of the GCF will approve requests for funding through a no-objection procedure, to ensure compatibility of the GCF's actions with domestic climate policies (departing from language in the original governing instrument that would have allowed the private sector also to borrow from the fund without approval from national authorities – a concern for developing countries at the conference). Drawing on the successful Global Environmental Facility, the 24 board members of the GCF would be evenly divided between developing and developed countries. Contributions to the fund have begun to be pledged, although in modest amounts. Fears exist whether the $100 billion anticipated annually by 2020 will ever materialise. The use of the formulation "new and innovative forms of funding" has not generated much confidence among developing countries. What these new and innovative forms will be is still to be defined. Sri Lanka has already made a request for $.5 billion for adaptation programmes for the period 2011 to 2016.

The insistence by developed countries, especially the US, on emissions reductions commitments by developing countries will remain a sticking point for the negotiations. Some developing countries with rapidly surging economic capabilities (Eg. China, Brazil, India, Republic of Korea, etc) may be able to progressively reduce national emissions levels and also continue to grow relying on their own resources. China, for example, has established 60 gw of wind power and planning to commission 200 gw by 2020. In 2011 China installed 3.5 gw of PV. Major manufacturers like GE, Seimans, Westinghouse produce wind turbines in China. China also purchases from Germany, US, etc. 90% of the required funds are raised from the money market. While China has already made significant strides in reducing Green House Gas emissions, with rapid industrialisation China's emissions levels will be a major challenge for China and the world. The Indian story is similarly impressive.

However, a large number of developing countries will simply not be capable of reducing emissions and progress along a growth path without substantial external financial assistance and technology transfers. This has been a sticking point in the negotiations since before Rio in 1992. there are 7 billion people on the planet today. The number is expected to grow to 7.5 in 2017. Energy is the key to the future of this planet and for improved living standards. The UN has a policy of improved access to energy.

The funding for the Green Climate Fund, expected to reach $100 billion in 2020, is simply not available at present. The current economic problems in developed economies do not bode well for future large scale infusions to the fund. While the GCF is an encouraging start, the non delivery of pledges made to assist with the realisation of the MDGs and the Monterrey Accords raises a worrying red flag. The role of the Bretton Woods financial institutions in financing green development is still to be explored fully. The slide away from the CBDR may rankle with developing countries which have insisted on their right to a fair share of the global carbon space which has been over occupied by the developed countries for a century or more. A major sticking point is the demand to consider post MDGs/sustainable development goals together under the control of member states, thus bringing Rio+20 and climate change negotiations closer. The current consumption levels of developed countries may be difficult or impossible to reduce. While the world grapples with such weighty issues, many members of AOSIS will worry about their very existence, as they mull a possible rise of 3.5c in the mean global temperature this century. Raising fears all round of an unmanageable precedent.  Canada which had been an enthusiastic champion of the environment in the past, denounced the Kyoto Protocol on 10 December.


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