COP17 commitments threaten to be a lame duck

European Union climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard stepped up warnings on Friday that if major economies do not compromise, a Durban deal may be out of reach.

Hedegaard tipped India as the country holding up negotiations as the COP17 climate conference draws to a close.

“Success or failure in Durban now rests on countries that have not yet committed to the roadmap and the meaningful content it must have.
We need to get them on board now. We do not have many hours left. The world is waiting for them,” she said.

The EU is ramping up support for its roadmap which sets out targets and timelines en route to a legally binding agreement—to be signed by 2015—which will require both developed and developing countries to commit to emission cuts after 2020.

It says gaining support for the roadmap is a prerequisite for signing up for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol—the world’s only legally binding climate treaty—sets emission reduction targets for wealthy countries and asks developing countries to make voluntary cuts. In the long run, this situation is untenable as it places no obligations on the countries that emit around 80% of the world’s emissions to reduce their outputs.

What’s good for the goose
Developing nations are eager for a second period but there is growing consensus that any future agreement should require both developed and developing countries to make sacrifices.

Hedegaard said both Brazil and South Africa had indicated on Thursday that they would be willing to accept a legally binding deal in which they would be bound to cutting emissions.

“India has a tough stance here and that’s why I note with great satisfaction that South Africa and Brazil are moving their positions,” she said.

But South Africa’s chief negotiator Alf Wills clarified South Africa’s position, saying that while the country was willing to join a legally binding agreement after 2020, this would be on the understanding that there is a distinction between what is required of developed and developing countries.

“The future needs to be built on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities,” he said.

This principle, which underpins the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process, has been one of the sticking points of negotiations in the last few years.

It reflects the belief that although all countries need to take action to reduce emissions, developing countries should have different targets, depending on their ability to cut emissions, as they do not have the financial and technological ability to do so and because high rates of poverty make development—which is often carbon intensive—a priority.

Finding a common ground
Rich countries have ruled out the idea of a new climate deal that does not bind developing nations to commitments.

The United States, which has never ratified the Kyoto Protocol or agreed to emissions cuts, has refused to accept any emission targets unless developing economies such as China and India do the same.

Earlier this week China announced that it would, in principle, accept a legally binding agreement after 2020—provided certain conditions were met.

This leaves India as the odd one out among the influential Basics countries of Brazil, South Africa, India and China.

But outgoing Africa Group chair Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu said it was unfair to ostracise India which had to consider the development needs of its people.

“For some countries it might be easy to sign off on emission cuts while for others it may constrain future development needs that they have,” he said, pointing out that the EU’s per capita emissions were about 10 times that of India’s.

‘Black sheep’
He said that instead of making India out to be the “black sheep”, countries should consider ways to accommodate India’s needs. Besides, he said, “If India is a deal-breaker, what is the US?”

Wills also defended India’s position, saying India was not necessarily against the idea of a legally binding treaty.

“India has its own interests and what India is saying is that it can’t make an announcement now without knowing the content of what that [future] agreement will look like,” he said.

This is similar to the stance of the US. US special climate envoy Todd Stern has repeatedly claimed that the US could not agree to a treaty if it did not know the content in advance.

On Thursday, the US announced that it would support the EU roadmap.

But it does not necessarily agree that a new deal would be signed off by 2015 and remained adamant that any treaty should be binding for both developed and developing countries.

‘Concrete obligations’
The EU has won the support of more than 120 of the 194 parties involved in the climate negotiation process.

Two developing country groups, the Alliance of Small Island States and the Least Developed Countries, on Thursday released a joint statement with the EU saying they were ready to “undertake concrete obligations to manage the climate change challenge”.

Hedegaard said it was significant that even the poorest states were saying that all parties should come to the part in sticking to emission reductions in the future.

Alden Meyer, a spokesperson from the Massachusetts-based non-governmental organisation group the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that movements from parties such as Brazil and South Africa were encouraging but that without the US, China and India they would not be enough to seal the deal.

Playing on the Nelson Mandela quote invoked by UNFCCC president Christiana Figueres at the opening of the COP, “Everything seems impossible until it is done,” Meyer said: “Everything seems possible today but it’s not done.”

As the clock counts down until the end of the conference, delegates are hammering out key issues concerning the Kyoto Protocol and the framework for a future climate deal.

Filling the gap
Support for the creation of the Green Climate Fund, which will bankroll programmes to help poor countries prepare for and deal with the effects of climate change, has been near unanimous but negotiators are still discussing ways to fill the fund in the long-term.

Wills said he remained positive that a good deal was within reach in Durban—one in which an agreement not only on the Green Climate Fund but also a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol would be achieved.

However, he added, “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

Although the conference is due to end on Friday afternoon, it’s likely negotiations will continue into the early hours of Saturday morning.

International relations spokesperson Clayson Monyela intimated that the next update on the state of the negotiations from COP president Maite Nkoana-Mashabane would take place on Saturday morning.

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

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live. Read more from Faranaaz Parker

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