HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsViewpoint: Kyoto COP 17 climate totem

Viewpoint: Kyoto COP 17 climate totem


As citizens of the world, we don’t believe in doom. We believe in things like free will, self-improvement, and the power of positive thinking.

We make our own fortunes and call them destiny. So what do you do when something happens that stands as proof that we may be wrong?

As proof that there is “a tide in the affairs of men” that seems to have a will of its own, that we are being carried along on a current apparently of our own making (but) certainly controlled, by forces beyond our ken?

That is how I felt at the close of the troubled United Nations climate talks, which were extended to try and strike middle ground in search of an elusive climate change deal.

Climate change is a truism of our times as expressed by conflicts, sky-high temperatures, droughts and diseases, the list is endless.

It recently emerged the world may not be able to limit global temperature rise to safe levels if new international climate action is not taken by 2017, as so many fossil fuel power plants and factories are being built.

And, if the world is to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius — thought to be the minimum safety level before devastating effects of climate change set in — emission volumes must not have more than 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide.

With emissions already at 390 ppm of CO2, time is running out for action. The warning came just a few weeks before international negotiators gathered for COP 17.

But, the world’s only legally binding climate agreement — Kyoto Protocol — unravelled amid warnings star performers in the global “climate change circus” were stalling on major decisions.

Canada declared Kyoto was “in the past”. It is evident from the beginning that expectations were low to deliver a binding climate change deal this year. The European Union (EU) was pushing for a deal by 2015 and other countries such as the United States, Russia, Japan, India and China, were accused of delaying a pact until 2018 or 2020.

Even then there is a condition: all the world’s major emitters — including the US, China and India — must agree in principle to conclude a binding climate pact by 2015 and implement it by 2020.

With evidence the world is threatened, why would these countries allow the Kyoto Protocol, the only international curb on greenhouse gases, to die?

Even the questions smacked of heresy to many nations at UN climate talks. A few voices believed the treaty had become more of a hindrance than help in the long-haul fight against climate change.

Coming into the 12-day climate talks under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which was extended to Saturday — itself unprecedented — Kyoto’s fate was always hanging by a thread.

The Protocol’s first round of emissions pledges by rich countries expires in December next year. By design, developing nations are exempt from its obligations.

Probably, the troubled UN climate talks, the first on African soil, were themelves a victim of the US-China trade war apparently over the dominance of the resource-rich continent.

It is apparent that delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment avoided in the power sector for example before 2020, an additional $4,3 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.

This would lead to a long-term average temperature rise of 3,5 degrees Celsius. If new policies are not implemented, the world is on a “dangerous track” to a 6-degree rise.

Hence, the treaty’s defectors such as Japan, Canada and Russia favour shifting pledges to a parallel forum in the 194-nation UNFCCC that focuses on voluntary emissions curbs, as does the US, which never ratified Kyoto.

For poor countries the Kyoto Protocol had given them a good basis on how they should work on the climate change issues.

But realistically, looking at the emissions numbers, can it give us a result? Unfortunately, the answer is absolutely “no”. The Protocol’s defenders — the entire developing world and virtually all green groups — made its renewal a redline issue.

“Having a second commitment period is the most important issue at Durban,” Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate negotiator, told journalists. But for others, Kyoto may have run its course.

Although the Protocol remains an important emblem of multilateralism, it also became, in reality, more of an impediment than a means to genuine progress.
The treaty’s highly symbolic status could have ultimately impeded progress in the talks.

The survival of the Kyoto Protocol had become “totemic” for many developing countries
This probably stood in the way of a compromise at COP 17 after emerging giants China, India and Brazil, along with the US, Russia, Japan and Canada, failed to make “reciprocal undertakings”.

Developing nations’ negotiators may have remained “totemic”, becoming rigid on the second commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, even when Japan with ancient history of honour, disowned a treaty which carries the name of its historical capital. Africa chief negotiator Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu said:

“The minimum expectation of the Africa Group is to leave here with a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol, one which has legally-binding dimensions, not merely political ones.”

The Kyoto Protocol only commits 37 developed nations to meet binding targets in the pact’s first phase until 2012.

The wheels came off the Kyoto bandwagon, and it was up to COP17 to pretend the collapse of the Kyoto Protocol and the failure to sign a new global warming treaty was reversed in the negotiations leading up to COP18 next year.

But, with Kyoto and the revenue it produces about to expire — and prospects for a renewal very slim — climate bureaucrats are busy devising other ways to raise global-warming money.

millenniumzimbabwe@yahoo.com or follow me on http://twitter.com/wisdomdzungairi

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