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Protocol 'needs new world view'

Fiona Macleod

Developed nations argue that the Kyoto Protocol agreement is based on outdated notions of global economies.

Rich nations at the COP17 climate change conference are demanding that rapidly industrialising countries take responsibility for their carbon emissions and stop expecting “guilt payments” for past mistakes.

Disputes about sharing responsibility for atmospheric pollution lay at the heart of the stalemate among delegates this week over whether the Durban conference would secure a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol.

Ahead of next week’s political negotiations Canada threw down the gauntlet, saying Kyoto was based on an outdated view of developed and developing worlds. “There’s a fairly widely held perception in the developing world of the need for guilt payment,” said Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent. “Kyoto is ineffective and unfair because the major emerging economies—which still like to consider themselves, when convenient, developing economies—are obviously the largest emitters.”

The European Union, Japan and the United States backed the view that developing economies had to take on more responsibility as a World Meteorological Organisation report indicated that climate-changing gases had reached new highs in the atmosphere.

Because of human activities, the report stated, the warmest 13 years of average global temperatures had occurred since 1997 and this year was one of the warmest recorded.

The EU said current and future emissions had to be factored in at the negotiations. Although Europe’s emissions fell by 17.4% between 1990 and 2010 China’s rose by 206% and India’s by 144%. Global economic shifts were blurring the distinction between developed and developing countries so that, by 2020, the latter would account for nearly two-thirds of global emissions.

“The EU is ready for a global treaty but the reality is that other economies, like the US and China, are not,” said Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action. “A second Kyoto period with only the EU, representing 11% of global emissions, [adhering to it] is clearly not enough for the climate. This cannot constitute success in Durban. The key question is: when will others follow?”

The US, which is responsible for 18% of global emissions and has never joined the Kyoto Protocol, said it wanted large emerging economies “brought into the mix” by 2020.

“The major emerging economies represent a much larger and growing share of global emissions than a decade ago. We can’t be in the same discussions as a decade ago around their engagement,” said Jonathan Pershing, American deputy special envoy for climate change.

The Japanese delegation said Japan would not make a second Kyoto commitment that covered only 26% of global emissions and was “not fair or effective”.

“To solve the problem of climate change fundamentally, it’s important to reconcile emissions reductions with economic development—not only in developed countries but in developing countries,” said Masahiko Horie, Japan’s global climate change ambassador.

But developing nations stuck to their position that, based on historical contributions to climate change, wealthy countries should accept further legally binding emission cuts when Kyoto ends in 2012 and pay for the harm caused by 200 years of industrialisation.

The Chinese delegation urged developed countries to “rise up to their historical responsibilities and take the lead by undertaking ambitious and robust mitigation commitments consistent with science”.

Mitigation actions
Su Wei, deputy head of the Chinese delegation, said developing countries would “implement enhanced mitigation actions in the context of sustainable development and enabled and supported by finance, technology and capacity building. Our countries have pledged ambitious actions to reduce emissions at substantial cost to their economies.”

The South African delegation said the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro had established the “polluter pays” principle.

“This implies the responsibility of developed nations to not only mitigate their emissions but take a degree of responsibility for the consequences of their emissions on the developing world,” said Environment Minister Edna Molewa.

Observers said that “graduating” poorer countries to developed status was a negotiating tactic favoured by Western countries and big business.

“Concentrations of greenhouse gases have built up over time. Devel­oping countries may be responsible for high emissions year on year, but not historically,” said Richard Worthington of the South African arm of the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Decisions about when countries graduated from developing to developed status were complex and based on production versus consumption, said Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid’s Kenya-based adviser. The non-governmental organisation was one of the sponsors of the greenhouse development rights framework, which charts nations’ responsibilities for reducing climate change according to gross domestic product, population and cumulative emissions.

Hopes high for a levy on ships’ polluting bunker fuels
Hours before COP17 started a violent storm killed six in Durban and Pietermaritzburg and destroyed scores of homes.

Extreme weather conditions would continue in South Africa, causing droughts and heavy rains, South African Weather Service chief executive Linda Makuleni said on Tuesday. Sunday night’s storms caused rivers to break their banks and delegates were greeted by muddy, rough seas.

  • Hopes were high that if nothing else COP17 would deliver a deal on the heavily polluting oils used by ships, known as bunker fuels. The International Chamber of Shipping, representing about 80% of the world’s merchant marines, joined forces with aid groups Oxfam and World Wide Fund for Nature International to urge the conference to adopt guidelines for a levy on bunker fuels. The levy could generate up to $10-billion a year for the Green Climate Fund, set up to fund global climate action.

  • Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel launched South Africa’s green economy accord, promising to build partnerships to create 300 000 new jobs by 2020. Opportunities would include energy generation, the manufacturing of products that reduce carbon emissions, farming activities to provide feedstock for biofuels, soil and environmental management and ecotourism. One million solar water-heating systems would be installed by 2014. The accord was signed on November 17.

  • It was announced that the next conference of parties, or COP18, would be hosted by Qatar in Doha in late 2012, when legally binding commitments under the Kyoto Protocol come to an end. The Republic of Korea, which, for the past two years, has been vying to host COP18, will instead host a ministerial meeting leading up to the conference.

  • Soon after Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa announced “the African agenda” in hosting COP17, the International Climate Justice Coalition accused South Africa of breaking ranks with the African delegation. The coalition was due to explain its reasoning at a press conference after the Mail & Guardian went to press. Pointing out that Africa accounted for less than 4% of the world’s total greenhouse-gas emissions in 2007, Molewa said the commission of the African Union had begun work on an African strategy on climate change.

For the latest COP17 news and special features view our special report.

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