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Sunday December 13, 2009

A cold front at climate talks

Negotiators from developing countries at the United Nations climate summit are resigned to the fact that there will only be a ‘political agreement’ given the many issues that are yet to be resolved.

AN 850kW wind turbine greets participants at the United Nations (UN) climate summit venue, Bella Centre, in the suburb of the Danish capital Copenhagen.

Every morning, as delegates, UN employees and members of the media gather here in the chilly weather, they warm up with a cup of hot coffee or chai from a wind-powered coffee bike.

Wind power: A young woman looking at a display featuring windmills. Under the Kyoto Protocol, developed nations are legally obligated to provide clean technologies like the wind-turbine to poorer countries. – AFP

The Vestas V-52 three-blade machine, which is connected to a grid that powers close to 300 Danish homes, is the Danish showcase of its wind-harnessing technology.

Just off Copenhagen, the Middelgrunden offshore wind farm boasts of 20 wind turbines of 2MW each. Since 2000, the turbines have produced 100GWh of electricity every year, enough to power more than 23,000 households.

In the negotiation rooms, delegates from developing countries are still haggling with negotiators from developed nations over technology transfer from the latter.

Under the Kyoto Protocol signed in 1997, developed nations are legally obligated to provide clean technologies like the wind-turbine to stir poor nations’ development towards a low-carbon pathway.

Khor: ‘The amount of funds being talked about is far too little, given the enormity of the task.’

Technology provision is just one of the unfulfilled promises of the 37 members of industrialised economies (called Annex I) in the global pact under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The aim is to reduce the earth-heating greenhouse gas (GHG) emission.

These developed nations had built their wealth in a carbon-intensive manner and had saturated the atmosphere with GHG. As such they had taken on the obligation to reduce their emissions by 5% from the 1990 level (under first phase of the protocol) between 2008 and 2012.

Billed as the foremost global political event of the year, the 15th Conference of the Parties (supreme body of the UNFCC) is supposed to wrap up the discussion after two years of marathon negotiations since the 13th meeting in Bali. Back then, the parties had agreed to finalise discussion on two tracks –the further commitment of industrialised nations under the legally-binding Kyoto Protocol, and the long-term cooperative action plan under the Convention.

As 194 of its member states get down to deliberate on how best to ensure a decent outcome of the two-week summit, negotiators from developing countries in particular are resigned to the fact that there will only be a “political agreement” – putting off a legal agreement into mid-2010 at the earliest – given the many outstanding issues that could not be resolved in time.

Developing countries whose prospects for development are being diminished by the onset of climate change are insisting that the Kyoto Protocol must be continued into phase two, according to the mandate from the Bali Action Plan which calls on Annex I countries to put forward ambitious emission reduction targets.

Rich nations, meanwhile, are reluctant to do so without the inclusion of the so-called advanced developing countries like China, India and Brazil. As such, they expressed their desire to discontinue the protocol and favour a new deal, defending their actions by saying that they wanted an “expanded Kyoto Protocol” given the impending severity of climate change. But they made no apology for disserting the legally-obligated process and their failure in meeting their reduction targets under phase one.

Observers see this move as the tactic of the Annex-I countries to shift the blame to the developing world should Copenhagen fail to produce an agreement. They said there is not even an agreed definition of “growing emitters” or “advanced developing countries”.

"I’ll be blunt, US$10bil will not buy people in developing countries enough coffins"- LUMUMBA STANISLAUS D1-APING

“China and India have large populations but that does not make them advanced economies. In per capita terms, which is the essential way for measurement, they lie low in income or in carbon emissions,” said Martin Khor, the executive director of South Centre, an intergovernmental think-tank for the South based in Geneva.

“Moreover, the promised financial and technology transfer to help developing countries shift to a sustainable development path are still nowhere in sight. The amount of funds being talked about is far too little, given the enormity of the task.”

In Copenhagen, Annex-I countries have proposed a fast-track funding of US$10bil for the most vulnerable countries to adapt, a move seen to split the poor countries. The amount was deemed inadequate by poor nations as well as many non-governmental organisations and civil society groups of developed countries.

Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, chair of the G77-China, a bloc representing 130 developing countries, was aghast by the amount.

“I’ll be blunt ... US$10bil will not buy people in developing countries enough coffins,” he scoffed.

He then urged the United States, which had in the past secured world peace and security, to approve US$200bil to save the world and to join the Kyoto Protocol.

Once the world’s largest emitter, the US has not ratified the protocol under the Bush administration fearing that emission cuts would affect its economy.

The chief negotiator for Sudan, Di-Aping condemned the backdoor agreement by Denmark which was leaked on Tuesday as undermining the transparency and participatory process.

He, nevertheless, assured that developing nations would not walk away from the negotiation at this last hour “because we cannot afford failure of Copenhagen. We have to find a way to reach a just deal to save human and nature. We will not sign an inequitable deal that condemns 80% of the world populations to further suffering and injustice. Come the 18th, you will know whether our attempt is successful or not.”

A developing country observer said the Danish Prime Minister, as the overseer of the complex and politically-charged meeting, has failed to play a neutral role.

“He could facilitate different draft agreements from different blocs but not personally initiate a text secretly with selected member nations from his part of the world. All groups can draft their own agreement but this must be subjected to open discussion.”

A delegate from Latin America who declined to be identified said such a text is dangerous if it surfaces at the closed-door high level segment.

“Who knows if some developing countries’ leader may fall for the charm of (US President Barack) Obama? Even if his charm doesn’t work, there is the strong-arm tactic,” she cautioned.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which the UNFCCC consult on climate science, had said in its Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 that the global temperature rise must not be allowed to exceed the 2°C limit if the world is to have any chance of averting catastrophic climate change.

The latest scientific findings are warning that the figure ought to be 1.5°C.

A 2°C rise would mean 3.5°C for the continent of Africa, further accelerating drought, flood, crop failure and water shortages.

Similarly, the poles and mountainous countries with melting ice-sheets and retreating glaciers are facing a bleaker future. So are the mega deltas in Asia that rely on the glacier-fed rivers.

In short, most developing countries will bear the brunt first.

Pledges made by individual developed countries so far, like the EU announcement of 20% from 1990 level by 2020, when added up only amount to an overall cut of 16% to 23%, which barely keeps the rise below the precarious 2°C.

Furthermore, a substantial reduction will be supplemented by offsetting mechanisms through carbon trading, meaning outsourcing emission reduction efforts to developing countries through the Clean Development Mechanism.

NGOs like Friends of the Earth International denounced what they called “inadequacy and injustice of the emissions reduction targets” at the release of a study prepared in partnership with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) on Tuesday.

Titled Europe’s Share of the Climate Challenge: Domestic Actions and International Obligations to Protect the Planet, it showed that the EU, which used to be a strong supporter of the Kyoto Protocol, could afford 40% emission cuts without offsetting and without resorting to dangerous or unproven solutions like nuclear power, agrofuels, and carbon capture and storage.

Lead author of the report, SEI’s Dr Charles Heaps, said: “Our analysis shows that deep cuts in emissions can be achieved in Europe at reasonable cost between now and 2050, even with rather conservative assumptions about technological improvement.

“The scale and speed of changes required may seem daunting, and indeed it will require a mobilisation of Europe’s economies. But the potential costs of inaction for Europe and the whole world are so large that doing nothing presents a far more implausible and dangerous future pathway for Europe.”

The research shows that the cuts can be achieved through a combination of radical improvements in energy efficiency, the accelerated phase-out of fossil fuels, a dramatic shift towards renewable energies and lifestyle changes.

Similar demands were voiced by the many civil society groups including the hundreds of boisterous youth representatives, upping the pressure on Annex-I countries ahead of the arrival of their leaders next week. Will they listen?

D-Aping is diplomatically optimistic.

“We shouldn’t conclude that this deal is sealed. And the intention has succeeded,” he said in reference to the controversial “Danish text”.

G77-China is committed to negotiate till the last seconds, in the hope that common sense and wisdom will prevail, he added.

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