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TRADE: Small Steps towards Emission Reduction Deal

DURBAN, South Africa, Dec 5 2011 (IPS) - Emerging economies China, South Africa and Brazil have indicated their openness to legally-binding carbon emission reduction targets from 2020 during the United Nations climate change summit in Durban, South Africa.

Emerging economies face developmental challenges but are also significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.  Credit: Zukiswa Zimela/IPS

Emerging economies face developmental challenges but are also significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: Zukiswa Zimela/IPS

Climate experts say the three countries’ willingness to consider legally binding commitments, even if they will not take immediate effect, was potentially “a great step” to unlock one of the big political issues of this year’s climate change talks.

Only India continues to refuse to commit.

The European Union (EU) proposed a “roadmap” last week, which stipulates that all major economies, including emerging countries like South Africa, Brazil, India and China, generally called the BASIC group – and not only industrialised nations as currently under the Kyoto Protocol – will be subject to legally binding carbon emission targets.

BASIC countries all face developmental challenges but are at the same time significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Major emerging economies and other developing nations already emit more than half of current carbon emissions. Within the next 20 years, they are projected to account for two- thirds.

The 194-nation climate talks, which will wrap up on Dec. 9, are abuzz with speculation on the prospect of emerging economies agreeing on the proposed roadmap.

In a move that surprised many after a tough week of negotiations that brought to the fore deep rifts between different countries’ demands and expectations, China announced for the first time it would accept a legally-binding climate deal after 2020, when current voluntary pledges will run out. After first insisting the demands of the EU roadmap were “too much,” China now seems open to finding a middle ground, especially with Europe.

“But there are pre-conditions,” said China’s top climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua. “A second Kyoto commitment period is a must for rich nations. After (the second period has ended), we need to review what has been done. Based on this assessment can we start negotiating what we shall agree after 2020.”

China laid out five conditions under which it would consider a legally-binding carbon reduction deal. Apart from a second commitment period of carbon-reduction pledges by industrialised nations under the Kyoto Protocol, they include hundreds of billions of dollars in short- and long-term climate financing for developing countries.

China also wants to see the Green Climate Fund signed off during the summit and demands the implementation of a range of agreements outlined at the 2009 Copenhagen summit, which were integrated into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at last year’s climate gathering in Cancun. These include initiatives for technology transfer, adaptation to climate change and new rules for verifying that carbon-cutting promises are kept.

South Africa and Brazil – two countries most vulnerable to the adverse effects of global warming, especially with regards to agriculture and biodiversity – have also shown interest in the roadmap.

South Africa’s Minister of Environment Edna Molewa said the EU roadmap was “seen favourably”, but noted that South Africa would, like China, want to place “conditionalities” on any binding agreements.

“We would like to work towards a legally binding outcome. As South Africa, we’re of the opinion that the seriousness with which we will deal with the level of contributions that South Africa can make in the global arena is understood in the context of articles 4.1 and 2 of the UNFCCC,” confirmed South Africa’s second negotiator Xolisa Ngwadla.

UNFCCC article 4.1 refers to “common and differentiated responsibilities” depending on the gross domestic product (GDP) of each country, while article 2 refers to the stabilisation of greenhouse gas emissions at a level that allows ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner – a point important for countries that heavily feel the effects of climate change.

“Our future commitments will also depend on finance, technology transfers and capacity building,” Ngwadla added.

Contrary to South Africa, Brazil said it is not placing any conditions on committing itself to an internationally legally binding instrument to reduce carbon emissions as long as such a treaty helped the fight against climate change based on scientific studies.

“We could agree already today on an internationally legally binding instrument, but not on any. It has to be robust, respond to what science is telling us is needed and therefore something that will make a difference in the fight against climate change,” explained Ambassador Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, head of Brazil’s delegation. “We would not adapt a legally binding instrument for the sake of it.”

Currently, Brazil has set voluntary carbon reduction targets, which have been passed into national law. Figueiredo said he is aware this commitment will have to increase over time: “We understand that this regime will have to evolve over time. We think voluntary actions alone usually don’t add up to the level of international response that science tells us is needed. We are willing to play our part in the future evolution of the international fight against climate change.”

As part of the Group of 77 and China negotiating bloc, a group of 132 developing countries, Brazil is pushing for the adoption for a second commitment period of Kyoto Protocol before the end of the climate change summit on Dec 9. The country is also lobbying for a sign off of a fully functional Green Climate Fund, which will have short-term and long-term financing mechanisms so that developing nations can adapt to climate change.

Delegates from BASIC countries have repeatedly noted that South-South cooperation is important to them, not only economically but also with regards to decisions made during the climate change summit, and have indicated that they would support each other’s positions.

India, however, the fourth member of the BASIC group, does not seem to fall into line. It has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the EU roadmap, as it is not willing to consider signing a legally binding agreement to cut carbon emissions.

India said it felt implementing its voluntary target of reducing the emission intensity of its GDP growth by 20 percent to 25 percent by 2020, compared to 2005, was sufficient. Having one of the smallest per-capita-carbon footprints in the world, tougher targets weren’t necessary, said India’s lead negotiator J.M. Mauskar: “We are not a major emitter.”

India was only willing to negotiate “mutual reassurances”, he said. “In terms of the Cancun pledges, developing countries’ voluntary pledges by 2020 amount to more mitigation in absolute terms than that of developed countries,” Mauskar further explained, insisting that rich nations, not developing countries and emerging economies must ramp up their commitments.

India has criticised industrialised nations, especially the United States, for not making firm commitments to cutting green house gas emissions. “We are deeply concerned that there has been hardly any progress in achieving a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol,” said Mauskar.

Russia, a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, which belongs with South Africa, China, Brazil and India to the BRICS economic bloc, has blankly refused to consider a second commitment period.

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