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Climate talks at new crossroads

KUALA LUMPUR, Sep 17 2012 (IPS) - The global climate change negotiations are at a new crossroads, as evident after the latest round of meetings that ended in Bangkok on Sep. 7.

The Bangkok negotiations of the United Nations Climate Change Convention, held over ten days, revealed a major split between developed and developing countries on what to do over many issues that the developing countries want to continue to discuss, because they have not been resolved.

Most developed countries, led by the U.S., believe there is no need for further discussion because they have been closed off by a decision taken at the last Conference of Parties in Durban last December.

The wrangling over a seemingly procedural issue of what remains on the agenda is in fact a sign of a far larger question what are the respective responsibilities of developed versus developing countries in the years ahead.

As evidence on the ground and in the science mounts over the devastating effects of climate change, it seems that the international community of nations has become less and less able to address the crisis.

At the heart of the problem is the continuing attempt of several developed nations governments to run away from their earlier agreed dual obligations to take the lead in sharp emissions reductions in their own countries, and to provide finance and technology to developing countries for them to take their own climate actions.

Under the legally binding Kyoto Protocol (KP), all developed countries (except the U.S., which is not a member) agreed to cut their emissions by specified rates. The overall average rate was five percent by 2012 compared to 1990.

Cuts for a second period starting 2013 have been negotiated in a KP working group since 2005. The new cuts are supposed to be at least 25-40 percent for all developed countries. The developing countries have demanded 40 percent or more.

Another working group on long-term action (AWG-LCA) was created in 2007 in Bali that mandated those developed countries that are not in the KP (only the U.S. at that time) to undertake a mitigation commitment comparable to countries in the KP.

This AWG-LCA group also obliges developing countries to take enhanced mitigation actions, supported by finance and technology supplied by rich countries, and both the actions and the support would be subjected to measurement, reporting and verification. The actions would not be legally binding, and can take on various forms and rates.

For the past three years there has been a see-saw battle to save the KP as one country after another indicated it was jumping ship to join the U.S. in the relatively safe haven of the AWG-LCA.

At the 2011 Durban conference, it was clear that Canada, Japan and Russia would not take part in a second KP period, while Australia and New Zealand took a wait-and-see attitude.

Thus only the European countries are left in the KPs active roll-call for post-2012 cuts. Up to now, well past the deadline, even they have not stated what cuts they are willing to commit to.

With the virtual abandonment of the KP, the developed countries have plotted to now kill the AWG-LCA. The U.S. dislikes the group and its Bali Action Plant for at least three reasons: it obliges all developed countries to make a comparable mitigation effort (the U.S. is not willing to do as much as the European Union); it treats developing countries more leniently; and it links the developing countries’ actions to the funds and technology transferred to them from the developed countries.

At Durban, a draft decision was put forward to end the life of the AWG-LCA by December 2012. This draft had not even been seen, let alone discussed, by developing countries, but was put on the floor in the last hours of the conference and adopted together with all other decisions on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

At Bangkok, many developing countries put forward proposals on several issues not yet resolved in the AWG-LCA, including financing of developing countries’ actions, technology transfer, adaptation, mitigation, trade and other measures against developing countries, and capacity building.

The chair of the AWG-LCA, Aysar Tayeb, prepared a compilation of issues drawn from countries’ submissions, that have to be resolved or transferred to other bodies, so that the working group can successfully conclude its work and close by December.

However, the developed countries, led by the U.S., vehemently opposed further discussion on most of these issues, and claimed the chairs paper had no status and was wrongly raising expectations.

It is quite evident that the U.S. and its allied countries want to kill the AWG-LCA and its associated Bali Action Plan and get rid of their three inconvenient elements.

A new group on the Durban Platform was formed in Durban to negotiate a new agreement. The U.S. is insisting that the Platform will not have the three disliked elements of the Bali Action Plan.

If the AWG-LCA group is to expire, all its issues and principles have to be transferred to other bodies in the Convention, including the Platform.

At stake is whether globally agreed actions to address the climate crisis are fair, or whether the powerful countries will continue to escape from their obligations and shift the burden to the developing world.

Meanwhile, Nature continues to ignore the slow progress or rather back-tracking of commitments going on in the sphere of human affairs. As emissions continue to increase and the average global temperature rises, a series of extreme weather events are wreaking havoc all over the world. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

* Martin Khor is the executive director of the South Centre, an inter-governmental organisation of developing countries based in Geneva.

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