The global challenge of climate change poses a perfect moral storm, by failing to take action to rein in environmental damage, the current generation is spreading the costs of its weird behaviour far into the future. But why should the next generation pay to clean up our climate change mess?
If Africa allows Kyoto to die in Durban, it will be a death knell for the climate fight. But if people are expecting a big bang in South Africa next month, that is not on the cards.
Why? Indications are the global climate talks might not produce the desired results capable of producing a new and binding pact to slash greenhouse gases, although steady progress could be made.
The solutions to climate change are relatively straightforward, if somewhat challenging to implement. The politics driving the negotiations are as difficult as they come, with the future of the Kyoto protocol at the centre of the conflict.
Kyoto’s first commitment period winds up at the end of 2012, and the question of whether Africa and others will sign up to a second commitment period is the linchpin of the negotiations.
Allowing Kyoto to lapse would be a very, very bad idea, for it is the only binding international climate law we’ve got and with no alternative in sight. Without a legally binding agreement, we are left with vague intentions and no guarantees of success.
Collectively, developed countries that ratified Kyoto are on track to achieve the protocol’s target of an average decrease in emissions of 5,2% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. The US, in stark contrast, saw its emissions rise by an estimated 11% in the same period.
While countries could establish an international carbon-trading market even in the absence of Kyoto, it would have to be governed by basic, commonly agreed rules to ensure projects were genuinely climate-friendly.
Kyoto has such rules, markets are up and running and those that break the rules are brought to account — why not build on these rather than start all over from scratch?
In the run-up to the upcoming climate summit in Durban: Africa must push for a deal, and Europe must signal its clear intention to sign up to a second round of Kyoto commitments and encourage other Kyoto parties do so as well. The US should stop badmouthing Kyoto.
Africa has no illusions about the challenges facing negotiators during the next round of talks in Durban, but the world is optimistic a “step by step” approach could seal a global compact by 2014-15.
However, my fears are bolstered by European Commission director-general for climate action Jos Delbeke who recently told a Press conference:
“Even if we do not have a big bang at Durban, we have the opportunity to make operational steps that are going to turn out to be very important for the elaboration of a new comprehensive regime.”
After the disappointments of Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancun in 2010, the latest round of discussions to extend the Kyoto Protocol will take place next month, and negotiators have already shed the illusion a deal could be sealed in one easy step.
With most of the world preoccupied with reviving the economy and handling the European debt crisis, few expect any breakthroughs.
The first Climate Change and Development in Africa conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia ,last week suggested big greenhouse gas producers like Japan and Canada would not even participate in the second phase of Kyoto.
In reality, what may happen is the European Union (EU) will pronounce themselves politically in favour of the Kyoto Protocol, but they will only go for ratification of the agreement if other parties join the club and undertake action.
China has been the biggest beneficiary of the Clean Development Mechanism, a Kyoto Protocol scheme that allows industrialised countries to meet their CO2 reduction targets by purchasing “certified emission reductions” or CERs from low-carbon projects launched in developing nations.
Nevertheless the EU, the biggest buyer of CERs, has said it will not accept CERs generated by Chinese projects once the current phase of its Emissions Trading Scheme ends in 2012, though projects already registered will remain valid.
With the EU committed to bringing the benefits of the mechanism to least developed countries, China will need to negotiate a separate bilateral deal with Europe if it wants to continue supplying carbon credits to Europe after 2012.
That will likely demand stronger commitments to reduce absolute levels of greenhouse gas, including sectoral programmes that will force entire industries rather than individual projects to cut their emissions.
As such, if Kyoto dies in Durban, it may well be the death knell for an effective, comprehensive, internationally co-ordinated legal response to global climate change in this decade.
Can developing countries in general and Africa in particular afford to let that happen?
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