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CLIMATE CHANGE: Agreement Prospects Slipping Away

Ramesh Jaura

BONN, Jun 11 2009 (IPS) - As the electronic clock at the preparatory talks here in the former West German capital counted up to the crucial UN climate change conference Dec. 7-18 in Copenhagen, the possibility of a new treaty being hammered out appeared rather remote.

This was in sharp contrast to Jun. 1 when the UN’s top climate change official Yvo de Boer said at the start of the Bonn round: “The political moment is right to reach an agreement.” He had added: “There is no doubt in my mind that the Copenhagen climate conference in December is going to lead to a result.”

On Jun. 11, however, the optimism of the executive secretary of the UN Framework Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) seemed to have been dampened as he told reporters that it would be “physically impossible” to have a detailed deal to tackle climate change by the December climate change conference in the Danish capital Copenhagen.

The “four tough nuts”, as he had termed these, were obviously proving extremely difficult to crack. Because, he said, the “delivery on four political essentials” on which the success in Copenhagen would depend, was turning out to be “impossible”.

The four essentials, as defined by De Boer are: clarity on how much industrialised countries would reduce their emissions up to 2020; clarity on what developing countries would do to limit the growth of their emissions; stable finance from industrialised nations for the developing world to mitigate climate change and adapt; and a “governance regime”.

De Boer said, “There has been no agreement on the new collective target for Annex I (industrialised) countries.” He was referring to the greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reduction target for industrialised countries for the period beyond 2012, when the current commitment period under the Kyoto protocol runs out and a new treaty has to be signed.

This has been the major stumbling block at climate talks for months, with industrialised countries unwilling to commit to a reduction target, and some saying they will not do so at all unless major developing countries like India and China commit to capping their GHG emissions.

Developing countries’ representatives such as India’s ambassador Shyam Saran have been pointing out at the Bonn talks that the industrialised countries bear a historical responsibility for almost all GHG in the atmosphere.

Excess GHG emissions are leading to climate change, which is affecting farm output, making droughts, floods and storms more frequent and more severe, and raising the sea level.

India is among the countries worst affected.

The commitments industrialised countries are willing to make are far below the target for emissions reduction incorporated in the Bali Roadmap 2007, following the advice of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The representatives of more than 30 industrial nations did not go beyond a range of cutting more than 17 to 26 percent of 1990 levels by 2020.

“This is not enough to address climate change,” said De Boer. The IPCC proposals, made in a 2007 report, call for a 25 to 40 percent reduction in order to reduce the risk of climate change caused by human activity.

The 27-nation European Union has offered a cut of 20 percent by 2020 relative to its emissions in 1990. The U.S. has proposed a 17 percent reduction compared to its 2005 emissions, which would amount to about 4 percent by comparison to 1990.

However, the UNFCCC executive secretary is hoping that Copenhagen would “deliver clarity on key political issues in this debate, that there will be clarity on the extent industrialised countries will reduce their (GHG) emissions, and clarity on what major developing countries are willing to do to mitigate their emissions.”

A telling sign of the complexities of negotiations arising at the Bonn meeting is that, according to some reports, various countries have together added some 200 pages to the 21-page proposal for amendments to the Kyoto Protocol that expires 2012.

Nevertheless, the top UN climate change official is now setting eyes on the August round of Bonn talks “when the real exercise to whittle down the proposals, and the serious drafting” of the text of the deal would start.

Meanwhile, Japan is coming under attack in the wake of Prime Minister Taro Aso’s announcement Jun. 10 that the country would aim to reduce its GHG emissions by 15 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2020 – a target which Greenpeace says is only 8 percent below 1990 levels.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, which runs from 2008-12, Japan pledged to reduce its GHG emissions to 6 percent below 1990 levels. However, Kuni Shimada, one of the principal negotiators for Japan, stressed in interviews that the target “doesn’t include any offsets or sinks at this moment – so it’s purely domestic efforts.”

Asked his opinion on the target, De Boer said to reporters: “For the first time in two-and-a-half years on this job, I don’t know what to say.” He later acknowledged how much Japan has already done to reduce its emissions.

Shimada said that the target was “a good start – and better than expected. Even myself, I was a little bit worried about getting a 7 percent reduction target, but now we have 15 percent.” He added that the reduction target could increase, once offsets and carbon sinks are included.

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