‘I’d rather see my country refuse an agreement with such low ambition. The political will of rich countries to make up for their historic responsibility and to safeguard poor people’s lives, dignity and development is just not there. Things have to change dramatically.’
— Mithika Mwenda, Coordinator of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance.
As the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany wind up and delegates set off for home, they leave behind a very large pile of newly assembled legal and negotiating text and a much larger gap in political will.
Some progress has been made. The negotiating parties have tabled amendments and negotiating texts have been compiled representing all their proposals. Somewhere within all that text the shape of a potential Copenhagen deal is now on the table.
But if you look at the core elements of what have to be agreed – deep emissions cuts from developed countries, support from developed countries to developing countries to help them cope with climate change impacts and develop in new low-carbon ways, and credible and legitimate institutions to monitor and deliver this low carbon transformation – and we are a long way from dealing with climate change.
The biggest issue is the failure of developed countries – referred to as Annex 1 countries in the talks – to put forward adequate targets for their emissions cuts. According to original timetables, by this point in the talks parties should have agreed an aggregate target for Annex 1.
Rich countries aiming low
Christian Aid has called for Annex 1 countries to sign up to at least a 40% cut in their emissions from 1990 levels by 2020. The G77 and China grouping which includes all developing countries tabled a call for this number on the last day of the talks, although many of the countries most vulnerable to climate change have called for even more ambition from developing countries.
In contrast an analysis by the UNFCCC secretariat calculated that the pledged emissions reductions by those developed countries that had put forward possible commitments added up to between a 16 to 24 % cut.
This number leaves out many developed countries, including the US that have yet to suggest what targets they might take. Those targets may be even lower, as Japan demonstrated to widespread international condemnation. Japan suggested they would achieve an 8% cut by 2020 – only 2% more than the cut they are committed to achieve by 2012.
One of the reasons for the general lack of ambition and foot dragging from developed countries is the reticence of the US. The US is hiding behind the progression of the Waxman-Markey Bill – which aims to deliver US emissions cuts – through Congress, and so it is all but absent. In fact many of its key negotiators skipped Bonn to attend talks with the Chinese government in Beijing.
Show us the money
As far as the negotiations are concerned the US seems to be acting as a world leader – in a race to the bottom. Beyond failing to have a target to table the major US contribution has been to popularise amongst rich countries the ‘double counting’ of emissions cuts and financial support to developing countries through offsetting.
Apart from the funds that might be raised through offsetting its own target can the richest country in the world provide money and technology to help poor countries cope with the impacts of a global catastrophe it is more responsible than anyone else for causing? At the moment the answer looks like ‘No we can’t’.
Europe is no better. They set the terms of their engagement when, during the middle of the second week of the negotiations, finance ministers from European members states met in Brussels and announced… very little.
What they did do was set out how funds that they show no signs of contributing to might be spent and then indicate their opinion that almost everyone else, from the private sector to some developing countries, should be contributing funds.
Another major discussion at Bonn was around what legal shape any agreement in Copenhagen should take. The terms of the Kyoto Protocol include provision to amend it to add further commitments for Annex 1 countries. Parties are also discussing whether there need to be further amendments to the existing protocol, and whether there should be a new Copenhagen Protocol, which could either supplement or replace Kyoto.
For poor countries this is very simple… action on climate change needs to start with rich countries who caused the problem. Before anything else can happen those countries need to show they are serious about doing their fair share.
This is the logic behind the form of commitments agreed in Kyoto in 1997 – where developed countries have binding commitments to cut their emissions and developing countries act as they are able given their priority of poverty eradication, and with support from rich countries.
But most rich countries look unlikely to meet their commitments under Kyoto, so new, stronger commitments need to be agreed and discussions need to take place on improving the implementation of these commitments. So developing countries want an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, and then some limited new legal instrument for further commitments.
However countries like Canada, Australia and Japan, and to some extent the US are only willing to act if poor countries do too and are trying to ‘turn the page’ on the Kyoto protocol and replace it with a new protocol or agreement that sees rich and poor countries taking on the same kinds of efforts.
An insight into the mindset of some developed country negotiators was given when Canadian NGOs obtained official briefing notes from their government through a freedom of information request.
The notes showed that the Canadian strategy included pressing the EU to take on weaker targets, and seeking to ‘extract binding emissions reduction commitments from the emerging economies’. Just for reference, Canada’s target for 2020 is a 2% cut.
Responsibility, capacity, equity
The developing countries, both separately and through the various groupings like G77 and China have been assertively calling for Annex 1 to meet up to their responsibilities, and were notably the source of all the ideas around how efforts can be shared between countries on a fair basis.
One key concept that was much discussed was historical responsibility for climate change. While much of the emissions causing current climate change were emitted in ignorance industrialised countries are responsible for the vast bulk of them and have benefited significantly from this.
Developing countries argue that this must be taken into account in any agreement to cooperate on tackling climate change. Otherwise the burden of tackling climate change will be unfairly shifted on to them and they will be denied the space to develop freely.
There were a number of sessions that discussed this concept, and finding a way to deal with it that both rich and poor countries can agree with will be important to finding agreement in Copenhagen.
There is now less than six months to go to Copenhagen. Despite the complexity of the hundreds of pages of negotiating text the lines of disagreement are clear. Will rich countries find the political will to commit to deeply cutting their emissions and providing the money to help poor countries, or won’t they?
More than ever it is apparent that Copenhagen may represent an unprecedented opportunity to deliver global action on climate change, but it will need an unprecedented global movement to create the will to act required. Christian Aid and its partners across Europe and the world are working hard to be part of such a movement.