The United Nations Climate Change Conference on the Indonesian island of Bali in December is not expected to achieve any dramatic breakthroughs on saving the planet from global warming, a senior official of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told IRIN. But, it could well produce an important timeframe on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, predicted Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chair.
The Bali climate conference will look at a new deal to be put in place after 2012, when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol (KP), a commitment made in 1997 by 36 industrialised countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least five percent against the baseline of 1990, expires.
"[In Bali] you will get no big announcements on cuts, but possibly a plan of action," said Pachauri.
Typical greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere by burning fossils fuels and chemical reactions; methane emissions result from livestock, production of natural gas, oil and coal; nitrous oxide is also emitted during agricultural practices, while fluorinated gases are produced from various industrial processes.
In terms of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which has 176 signatories and is in effect the parent treaty of the KP, the burden was placed on developed countries because they could afford it and had historically contributed to the problem by emitting larger amounts of harmful gases per person than the developing world.
The United States, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and Australia have not signed the protocol. The US objected as the KP excluded China and India, two of the world's fastest growing economies, and Australia chose to ally itself with the US.
At a press briefing on 26 November Pachauri indicated that the recent change of government in Australia could affect negotiations in Bali. Labour leader Kevin Rudd, whose party won the general elections on 24 November, has promised to ratify the KP during his campaign.
In agreement with many climate experts, the UN Development Programme's (UNDP) Human Development Report 2007/2008, called Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a Divided World, released on 27 November, warned that if greenhouse gas emissions were not cut by at least 30 percent in the next 10 to 15 years, global temperatures would be set to increase by two degrees Celsius.
Scientific reports from the IPCC since 2005 have made it clear that climate change is a reality, and a two-degree Celsius change will destroy 30 to 40 percent of all known species, with bigger, fiercer and more frequent heat waves, floods and droughts.
A doable timeframe?
Most environmentalists hope Bali will deliver a general agreement to cut emissions substantially by 2020. "Ideally, industrialised nations will commit to deep and decisive emissions reductions of up to 30 percent over the coming few decades," said Nick Nuttall, spokesman for the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
"But a more realistic, but nevertheless solid outcome, will be if all nations define the parameters of the negotiations for a post-2012 emission reductions regime ... by 2009," when the next meeting of all parties to the UNFCCC takes place in Copenhagen, Denmark.
|The past negotiations have been marked by a lot of finger pointing between countries with playing the blame game. UNEP, among other organisations, has been trying to build confidence and trust between developed and developed nations for the past 12 months|
Mike Shanahan, spokesman for the International Institute for Environment and Development, a UK-based policy research institute, pointed out that the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, took two years - from 1995 to 1997 - to negotiate, but only came into force in 2005.
"So the next two years will be critical. Two outcomes are possible: a fair and appropriate agreement in Copenhagen, or an incomplete and inadequate one that will do little to protect the climate system and those most vulnerable to climate change."
The best outcome would be a "Bali Mandate", an action plan for an agreement by 2009 that would include more countries making commitments to cut emissions and broaden the scope of the KP to include emissions from deforestation, said Shane Rattenbury, Political Director of Greenpeace International.
"Under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments, developed country governments in Bali could agree on a range of cuts between 25 and 40 percent. This would be a positive signal but, ultimately, what matters is what is in the agreement in 2009 [in Denmark]."
There had been a "seismic shift in the politics of climate change in recent years," noted Kevin Watkins, author of the 2007/08 Human Development Report, so he was "cautiously optimistic" about Bali. "In Europe, several political leaders are championing the case for deep cuts; the US has also witnessed a groundswell of support for binding cuts."
Action speaks louder
The KP put in place three so-called "market-based mechanisms" to reduce greenhouse gases: emissions trading, joint implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). This means industrialised countries can earn and trade emissions credits by implementing projects in other developed countries or developing countries, and put the credits towards meeting their targets.
"These mechanisms help identify lowest-cost opportunities for reducing emissions and attract private sector participation in emission reduction efforts. Developing nations benefit in terms of technology transfer and investment brought about through collaboration with industrialised nations under the CDM," according to the UNFCCC.
Ecologist Vandana Shiva, a leading environmentalist, physicist and founding director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, based in India, said the details of the KP, which weighed in favour of "big corporates" in the industrialised countries by offering them opportunities to earn and trade emission credits, indicated that "getting the right agreement was more important".
Watkins cautioned in the UNDP report that "opportunities for generating emission trading credits overseas should not displace mitigation in the European Union". The problem was "practical action", which lagged far behind what "science points to in terms of the magnitude and timing of cuts".
On 20 November, Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, revealed that the total greenhouse gas emissions of 40 industrialised countries rose to a near all-time high in 2005, continuing the upward trend of 2004; according to the UNDP report, carbon dioxide emissions in the United Kingdom, for example, have not fallen in the past decade.
Nevertheless, de Boer seems optimistic, announcing in a press release that the 15 percent cuts promised by the Kyoto signatory countries were feasible by 2012 if additional measures like emissions trading were put in place.
The UNDP report revealed that just four developing countries - Brazil, China, India and Mexico - accounted for three-quarters of all projects under the CDM, while sub-Saharan Africa represented less than two percent.
US, India, China: "Shadow-boxing?"
According to the UNDP report, developing countries should cut emissions by 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. However, these cuts should occur from 2020 onward and be supported by international cooperation on finance and low-carbon technology transfers, allowing poor countries to develop.
Until recently the 49 Least Developed Countries (LDC), mainly in Africa, and a coalition of 39 small islands and low-lying coastal countries, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), had backed China and India in demanding that rich countries accept historical responsibility for climate change.
But they now want China and India to reduce their emissions. Over the next decade China will become the world's largest source of carbon dioxide emissions and India is now the world's fourth largest emitter.
|Nine planet Earths would be required to absorb all the world's carbon if every poor person has the same energy-rich lifestyle as an American or a Canadian|
|On average, 1 person out of 19 in a developing country will be hit by a climate disaster, compared to 1 out of 1,500 in an OECD country|
|Climate change creates lifetime traps:In Niger, a child born during a drought is 72 percent more likely to be stunted than a child born during a normal season|
|Source: UNDP Human Development Report|
The US cited China and India for refusing to ratify the KP but Shiva accused the US of "shadow-boxing", saying, "The US has merely shifted its emissions off-shore to China, which has become the world's largest factory. The US is responsible for any additional emissions in China and India."
UNEP's Nuttall commented, "The past negotiations have been marked by a lot of finger pointing between countries with playing the blame game." UNEP, among other organisations, has been trying to build "confidence and trust between developed and developed nations" for the past 12 months.
Encouragingly, countries on both sides of the fence are rising to the challenge. "In the US, many sectors of business and industry, and local authorities, need very little convincing now and are urging the administration to go further and faster on the climate change issue." Nuttall pointed out that some 300 cities in the US were setting KP-style emission cut targets, and around half the US states have established renewable energy requirements.
"Countries like India and China have publicly stated concern about the impacts of climate change, if unchecked. The missing ingredients are finance and technology transfer - the international community needs to find a way to get the latest and cleanest technology to developing economies, and devise mechanisms to finance this transition and transfer," he said.
Developing countries are also coming to the party: plants and trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making forests critical to the health of the planet, so Brazil is reducing rates of deforestation by over 50 percent; the ratio of energy use to gross domestic product (GDP) is called "energy intensity" and China has reaffirmed targets for energy intensity reduction as well as renewable energy.
"With the right regulatory framework, fiscal incentives and intelligent market mechanisms, industry can rapidly innovate and produce the climate-friendly products and goods so centrally needed," said Nuttall. "In India, for example, UNEP has helped bring solar power to 100,000 people ... [by making solar panel installations] affordable to poorer rural communities."
The world was headed towards "adaptation apartheid", where "the citizens of the rich world are protected from harm; the poor, the vulnerable and the hungry are exposed to the harsh reality of climate change in their everyday lives," suggested South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his contribution to the UNDP report.
"Put bluntly, the world's poor are being harmed through a problem that is not of their making. The footprint of the Malawian farmer or the Haitian slum dweller barely registers in the Earth's atmosphere," he said, referring to the quantity of the greenhouse gases that individuals generate, for instance by driving a car.
Photo: OFDA and CRED 2007
An Adaptation Fund funded by CDM transactions was set up under the KP to help poor countries cope with the impact of global warming, but the UNDP report said the governments of developed countries had failed to keep up with their commitments. The UNFCCC has also set up the Least Developed Country Fund, the Special Climate Change Fund, and the Strategic Priority on Adaptation, another funding mechanism.
"By mid-2007, actual multilateral financing delivered under the broad umbrella of initiatives set up under the UNFCCC had reached a total of US$26 million. This is equivalent to one week's worth of spending on flood defence in the United Kingdom," said the UNDP report. Developing countries will need about $86 billion a year by 2015 to adapt to environmental changes that will make it more difficult to feed themselves.
Incentives serve as penalties
Opinion is divided over imposing stricter penalties to make rich countries pay up. "The Kyoto Protocol has a good compliance mechanism, which forces countries to accept responsibility if they fail to meet their targets and obliges them to do even more in following years," said Greenpeace's Rattenbury.
The maximum penalty for non-compliance is suspension of membership, but the UNDP's Watkins felt the current mechanisms were "too weak" and suggested trade measures like those imposed by the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, often hailed the most successful international treaty.
The Montreal Protocol, which became effective in 1989, was designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of a number of substances believed to be responsible for ozone depletion.
Pachauri said it would impossible to impose penalties along the lines of the Montreal Protocol, "where countries were dealing with a limited number of gases with clear health implications; but in this instance the impact [of greenhouse gases] is very complex and wide - it would be impossible to monitor."
Shiva suggested rewarding green initiatives, such as renewable energy, which could amount to a penalty for those not adopting such measures.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
Help make quality journalism about crises possible
The New Humanitarian is an independent, non-profit newsroom founded in 1995. We deliver quality, reliable journalism about crises and big issues impacting the world today. Our reporting on humanitarian aid has uncovered sex scandals, scams, data breaches, corruption, and much more.
Our readers trust us to hold power in the multi-billion-dollar aid sector accountable and to amplify the voices of those impacted by crises. We’re on the ground, reporting from the front lines, to bring you the inside story.
We keep our journalism free – no paywalls – thanks to the support of donors and readers like you who believe we need more independent journalism in the world. Your contribution means we can continue delivering award-winning journalism about crises. Become a member of The New Humanitarian today.