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Climate negotiation: Crunch time in Tianjin

Free Malaysia Today
Hilary Chiew

Comment Crippling floods in Pakistan. Devastating mudslide in China. Raging forest fires in Russia.

These are headlined natural disasters news in recent times that many suspected have to do with a growing extremity in weather events linked to climate change.          

While it will take a while for scientists to conclusively say so, the suspicion will, in all likelihood, be proven to be true in time to come.

In fact, the 2009 State of the Climate report released by the authoritative National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) informed that the past decade was the warmest on record and that the Earth has been growing warmer over the last 50 years.

The report, contributed by more than 300 scientists from 160 research groups in 48 countries, draws on data for 10 key climate indicators that all point to the same finding: the scientific evidence that our world is warming is unmistakable.

Based on comprehensive data from multiple sources, the report defines 10 measurable planet-wide features used to gauge global temperature changes.

Seven indicators are rising: air temperature over land, sea-surface temperature, air temperature over oceans, sea level, ocean heat, humidity and tropospheric temperature in the “active-weather” layer of the atmosphere closest to the Earth’s surface. Three indicators are declining: Arctic sea ice, glaciers and spring snow cover in the Northern hemisphere.         

Then the question arises, what is being done to avoid a runaway climatic disaster?       

Two international treaties were established to prevent the dreaded outcome -- the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 and its supplementary treaty the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

The latter came out with a carbon emission reduction plan for developed economies (collectively called the Annex I countries) under the first commitment period from 2008 to 2012. About 40 industrialised nations, except the United States, are obliged to cut an average of 5.2% of their collective emissions below the 1990 level.    

Twelve years after Kyoto (where the signatories of the UNFCCC met and decided on the protocol) the 193 members of the UNFCCC were supposed to finalise a second commitment period in accordance with the provision of the principal treaty.           

However, that did not happen at the 15th Conference of Parties (CoP) in Copenhagen last December. The developed world, basically, refused to further bear the responsibility of cutting greenhouse gas emissions without the participation of what they called “other major emitters”, in reference to China, Brazil and India.
China’s impressive economic growth, and of course the associated rise in its emission level, was singled out by Annex I as justification for it to come onboard in the next phase of global emission cut.   

The world’s most populous nation overtook the US as the biggest emitter in 2008 and recently it was reported to be the largest consumer of energy. Again, surpassing the US.

Thus, it would appear that it is only “fair” that China does not go scot-free in the second round of emission reduction pact. However, the historical responsibility of industrialised nations that had brought the world to this dangerous state is unmistakably enshrined in the convention’s text.          

Article 3.1 states that “parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof”.          

Developing countries argued that per capita emission in the accumulative manner is a more equitable way to determine burden-sharing. For instance, in 2007, an American per capita emission is 19 tonnes while a Chinese is 4.6 tonnes. Malaysians emitted 7.2 tonnes per person in that year.

Leadership or laggardship?      

However, the US under President Barack Obama, who has taken a renewed interest in the climate change negotiation, has openly rejected the globally accepted understanding and seek a re-interpretation of that clause. Under the Bush regime, the US snubbed the Kyoto Protocol on grounds that it would have adverse impact on its economy.

A high sense of morality is needed from developed countries to ensure that the environmental integrity that they often espoused doesn’t come with a hollow ring.

And not only did it refuse to honour the spirit of the treaties, Obama brokered the Copenhagen Accord that threatens to undermine the convention further. Although it later became a document that was merely “taken note of” by the CoP, the highest party-driven, decision-making body of the UNFCCC, the US climate negotiators continue to cling on to the accord and its elements are being introduced into the on-going negotiations, which aim to reach a legally-binding agreement in Cancun, Mexico, at year-end when the CoP reconvened for the 16th time.          

With the death of its climate bill, the Obama’s presidency, in my opinion, has completely lost its credibility in the global fight against climate change.

As an American climate activist said recently at a side event in Bonn, the world has been waiting in vain for the US to do its part but it should not wait any more. Llike any other global issues, the US has shown little interest in multilateralism and more importantly, it still holds to the belief that the American lifestyles are not up for negotiation.     

As Papua New Guinea climate envoy Kevin Conrad put it in perspective in April 2009, Obama’s proposal to reduce the US emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% below by 2050 is grossly insufficient in the near term and simply pushes true responsibility on to future US presidents.         

“Why should the greatest emitter in history be granted 12 extra years simply to get to the starting line accepted by other industrialised countries? Is this leadership or laggardship?” he asked.  

Poor countries push on

Bruised by the high-handed manner that developed countries had used to try and wriggle their way out of more stringent cuts, developing countries had painstakingly reasserted their positions and steer negotiation back under the fold of the CoP (and not some external bodies or agreements that seek to usurp the power of the legitimate multilateral process).    

After two rounds of inter-sessional meetings this year in Bonn, Germany (the secretariat of the UNFCCC), many developing countries are calling for actual negotiation to begin in the next round of the six-day meeting in Tianjin, the last before Cancun (according to the current plan). (Last year, an additional round of meeting was convened in Barcelona before Copenhagen in efforts to break the stalemate.)

In general, mainstream western media has painted a bleak picture of any outcome in Cancun simply because the negotiating text now has lengthened considerably as parties, both Annex I and non-Annex I (developing countries), had re-inserted their specific demands in the two negotiating tracks called the Ad hoc Working Group on the Further Commitments of Annex I parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Actions (AWG-LCA).           

However, many developing countries had expressed satisfaction that the task of deciding the future climate regime is back in their hands and are convinced that an equitable outcome is within reach if only parties will stick to the principles of the treaties.           

They stressed that satisfactory progress in the AWG-KP is key to the success in the two negotiating tracks as parties head towards Cancun. China, which has been demonised by the Western countries, aided by its powerful media houses, has remained steadfast that legally-binding emission is the responsibility of those that had disproportionately occupied the atmospheric carbon space, and they must do more so that poor countries would still have some space left for them to grow.

In a strong statement at the recently concluded round in early August, China said it is against any proposal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, as well as proposals to impose unfair obligations on developing countries.    

"If the Kyoto Protocol process fails, it will be the failure of the whole multilateral process on climate change," it warned, and called for the group to engage in full negotiating mode based on the AWG-KP chair's draft, at the next meeting in Tianjin.

It’s crunch time in Tianjin. A high sense of morality is needed from developed countries to ensure that the environmental integrity that they often espoused doesn’t come with a hollow ring.


The news content in this section is responsibility of the information agencies and does not necessarily reflect the position of the Government of Mexico on this or other related topics.

El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.


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