Strange outcome of climate meet

Editorial, Normal

The National – Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Cancun climate conference in Mexico recently had a strange outcome, with the adoption of a text created by unfamiliar methods, and which passes the burden of action onto developing countries, writes MARTIN KHOR


THE United Nations’ Cancun climate conference, which adopted a text last Saturday, had a strange outcome.
It was acclaimed by many for reviving the spirit of multilateralism in the climate change system, because another collapse after the disastrous failure of the Copenhagen talks a year ago would have knocked another hole into the reputation in the UN climate convention.
Most delegations congratulated one another for agreeing to a document in Cancun.
However, this Cancun text has also been accused of falling far short, or even going backwards, in controlling the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
The Cancun conference suffered an early blow from Japan’s announcement that it would never ever agree to making another commitment under the Kyoto Protocol, which sets targets for 37 industrialised countries and the European community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The conference never recovered from that blow.
The final text failed to ensure the survival of the protocol, though it sets some terms of reference for continuing the talks next year.
The Cancun meeting made it more likely for the developed countries to shift from the Kyoto Protocol, and its binding regime of emission reduction commitments, to a voluntary system in which each country only makes pledges on how much it will reduce its emissions.
The Cancun text also recognised the emission-reduction targets that developed countries listed under the Copenhagen Accord.
But, these are, overall, such poor targets that many scientific reports warn that developed countries, by 2020, might decrease their emissions only a little or even increase their level.
The world is on track for temperature rise of three to five degrees, which would lead to a catastrophe.
Even as it prepared the ground for the developed country’s “great escape” from their commitments, the Cancun text introduced new disciplines for developing countries as they are now obliged to put forward their plans and targets for climate mitigation, which are to be compiled in a document and later in registries.
It is the first step in a plan by developed countries to get developing countries to put their mitigation targets as commitments in national schedules, similar to the tariff schedules in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The Cancun text also obliges developing countries to report their national emissions every two years as well as on their climate actions and the results in terms of emission avoidance. These reports are to be subjected to a detailed scrutiny by other countries and international experts.
The Cancun text gives a lot of space to the details of these “monitoring, reporting and verification” (MRV) procedures as well as “international consultation and analysis” (ICA).
These are all new obligations, and a great deal of time was spent in Cancun by developed countries (especially US) to get developing countries to agree to the details of MRV and ICA.
nMartin Khor writes a weekly columnon global trends in The Star newspaper in Malaysia. He previously headed a consumerist non-governmental organisation.