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ENVIRONMENT: Developing Nations Refuse to Ditch Kyoto Protocol

Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Oct 8 2009 (IPS) - As the countdown continues towards a United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen in December, a seemingly intractable tussle between negotiators from the developing and developed world has begun to take shape over international commitments to slash greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions.

At the heart of this dispute is the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, a global environmental treaty aimed to slow down the pace of a rapidly heating planet. In December 2007, the hopes offered through the protocol seemed very much alive following a U.N. climate change summit in the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

But signs of the Bali Action Plan (BAP) unravelling during the two-week long U.N. climate change talks in Bangkok have become more stark since negotiations commenced here on Sep. 28. A cornerstone of the BAP was a commitment by leaders of the developed world to work on a new plan to slow down GhG emissions over a medium period, between 2013 and 2020, through new targets.

The strong language used by the developing world’s negotiators to describe the new agenda of their industrialised world counterparts – to ignore the commitments made in Bali – confirmed the frustration that has been swirling within the closed-door negotiations.

“They (the developed world) will try to kill the Kyoto Protocol. That is part of their game,” Lumumba Stanislaus-Kaw Di-Aping, head of the Group of 77 (G77) and China bloc, told IPS during a break from the heated negotiation sessions being held at a regional U.N. conference centre. “We are absolutely united to stop such efforts.”

“This instrument (the protocol) thus far has proved to be effective,” the Sudanese diplomat added earlier during a press conference. “The attempt to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a new framework would be counterproductive. What needs to happen is for the European Union, Japan and Australia to rise up to the challenge than join the race to the bottom led by the U.S.”

Similar sentiments were echoed during interviews with other negotiators of the G77 and China bloc, who, with 130 members from the developing world, makes up the largest body of the over 180 countries participating in the negotiations. They fear that an alternative instrument to replace the protocol with no international standards will serve as a licence for the industrialised nations to sidestep their commitment to slash their GhG emissions.

“All of us (G77 and China) are trying to fulfil the mandate of the Bali Action Plan,” said Shyam Saran, special envoy of the Indian prime minister on climate change. “We have not put down anything on the table here that is outside the Bali Action Plan.”

“We are quite clear in our minds that the Kyoto Protocol is a legally valid instrument, and we are not in a position to agree to any actions to abandon the Kyoto Protocol and replace it with another document,” Saran, head of the Indian negotiators, told IPS. “This is an attempt to leave no room for international standards for emission reduction targets.”

The Kyoto Protocol set binding targets for 37 industrialised countries and the European Union to slash their GhG emissions by five percent by 2012 relative to 1990 levels. The Copenhagen climate summit was supposed to build on the said international agreement through a new environmental accord for the post-Kyoto Protocol period, including new targets for GhG emissions, which are largely responsible for global warming and its consequence – more frequent and intense natural disasters.

In the run-up to the Bangkok talks, some of the richer countries had agreed to reduce their emissions by between 15 and 23 percent by 2020, a number far below what is needed by that year from the industrialised nations – cuts of 25 to 40 percent relative to 1990 levels.

What is more, to date, many of the industrialised countries have still to meet their 2012 GhG emission targets. And the United States, which leads the industrialised world in the amount of pollution per capita, at an estimated 20 tons of carbon dioxide per citizen, has remained an outsider to the protocol.

For their part, the developing countries broke new ground during the Bali climate summit by agreeing to make significant cuts in GhG emissions on a national, voluntary basis. That was agreed on condition that the richer nations fund programmes to help the developing world adapt to the threats of climate change and secure green-friendly technology.

But this distinction – of voluntary emission cuts by developing nations as against the internationally agreed cuts as part of a global environmental regime by the developed nations – is in danger of being blurred.

“The developed nations want to become developing nations to avoid meeting their responsibility for global warming,” said Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, a Geneva-based think tank.

“The European Union made this clear on the first day of the negotiations here, declaring that they want a new agreement with some select elements of the Kyoto Protocol included,” Khor said in an interview. “Their negotiators had come here to dismantle the Kyoto Protocol rather than negotiating clear targets to reduce emissions.”

The groundwork for this assault on the protocol was laid during the last two climate negotiating sessions in Bonn, Germany. “Australia, Japan and the U.S. were among those who started talking about a new agreement, but it was not clear what the contents were,” Khor revealed. “We thought the new proposals would be an addition to the agreed commitments of the Kyoto Protocol.”

“This has been the biggest surprise and setback at the negotiations here,” the Malaysian national added. “We are in a critical stage, with the biggest issue being the uncertain future of the climate regime.”

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