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Race on to secure life after Kyoto

Countries driving the Kyoto Protocol process are pushing for a new global treaty to combat climate change to be in place by early next year.

At a meeting in Johannesburg in mid-July, ministers from Brazil, South Africa, India and China (the Basic countries) called for the adoption of a ratifiable second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol after the global agreement, which has been in force since January 2008, comes to an end in December.

In keeping with the outcomes of the COP17 climate change negotiations in Durban late last year, which saved the Kyoto process at the eleventh hour, the governments are working on the immediate implementation of a new protocol at the beginning of 2013.

Its details were expected to be finalised at the United Nations climate-change conference in Doha in December, the ministers said in a joint statement after the meeting. Decisions scheduled to be taken in Doha include whether the second commitment period will be for five or eight years and the precise emission reduction commitments of industrialised countries that have obligations under the protocol.

The ministers expressed concern about the level of ambition reflected in the quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives – the unit of binding reduction commitments – submitted by annex I countries that are party to the protocol.

Collective emission reductions
Brazil's deputy minister of environment, energy, science and technology, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado, said the objectives were "far below" what was required by ­science and the industrialised nations' commitments to reduce their emissions by at least 25% to 40% of 1990 levels by 2020.

Annex 1 countries, including the United States, had agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% on average from 2008 to 2012. However, the US had not ratified the treaty and the collective emission reductions of annex 1 Kyoto countries fell to 4.2% below the base year, he said.

Just days after the meeting, on July 20, the European Commission's Joint Research Centre and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency released a report that showed global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions rose by 3% – to 34-billion tonnes – in 2011.

According to the report, nations cannot emit more than 1.5-trillion tonnes of CO2 between 2000 and 2050 if the world is to meet the target to limit the rise in global average temperatures to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

"If the current global trend of increasing CO2 emissions continues, cumulative emissions will surpass this limit within the next two decades," the centre said in a statement.

The study calculated that 420-million tonnes had already been pumped into the atmosphere since the turn of the century.

Voluntary target
China, which passed the US as the world's biggest emitter of CO2 in 2009, was responsible for 29% of global emissions and the US for 16%, the report said.

China's CO2 emissions rose last year by 800-million tonnes to 9.7-billion, an increase of 9%. US emissions fell by 110-million tonnes, or 2%, to 5.42-billion tonnes.

China, the world's second-biggest economy, now has a per capita emissions ratio of 7.2 tonnes. Although the Beijing government has set itself a voluntary target of reducing its CO2 emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 40% to 45% of 2005 levels by 2020, rapid economic growth means the country's emissions continue to skyrocket in absolute terms.

The Basic countries, which undertook voluntary commitments to reduce their CO2 emissions under Kyoto, have played an increasingly significant role in international environmental governance and hosted seminal climate change conferences in recent years.

"Developing countries have demonstrated full commitment in playing their part in the global fight against climate change and have presented actions which express significant ambition to reduce emissions," the ministers said.

Respective capabilities
"Developed countries must rise to their historical responsibilities and take the lead by undertaking robust and ambitious mitigation commitments consistent with science and in accordance with the principles of equity and common, but differentiated, responsibilities and respective capabilities."

Under the protocol, 37 highly industrialised countries and countries in transition to a market economy have legally binding emission limitation and reduction commitments.

The Basic meeting was attended by representatives from Algeria, The Gambia, Nauru, Qatar and Swaziland. Co-ordinators of the meeting said it was "in line with the Basic+ approach and with a view of strengthening co-ordination within the Group of 77 and China".

Although developing countries were not responsible for historical greenhouse gas emissions, they were ready to help, Machado said.

"The climate change we are experiencing is the result of emissions that occurred a long time ago and the responsibility of the industrialised countries. We are not responsible for what is going on, but we are ready to help to fight the problem."

Edna Molewa, South Africa's minister of water and environmental affairs, said the ministers were satisfied with the outcomes of the COP17 conference in Durban and Africa would continue to reduce its CO2 emissions.

Going forward
"We've begun implementing alternative energy resources, we've committed to move on to a green economy and are already going forward," she said.

Progress in negotiations leading up to Doha in December is essential for the establishment of the Green Climate Fund, the financing mechanism to support developing nations, which should become fully operational in 2013.

The end of 2012 marks the end of the $30-billion pledged in fast-start finance under Kyoto. At Doha, ­governments will discuss to ramping up funding for developing nations to $100-billion a year by 2020.

A registry that matches developing country actions to curb emissions with industrialised countries' support is scheduled to be finalised at the end of the year, as well as other agreements relating to technological and capacity-building support to help developing nations to adapt to the impact of climate change and build their own sustainable energy infrastructure.

An international adaptation committee, set up in May, has been tasked to calculate the impact of slow-onset events, such as sea levels rising and ocean acidification, as a result of climate change.

At Doha, agreement is expected on ways to implement national adaptation plans for least-developed countries, including linking funding and other support.

Another outcome of COP17 was the setting up in May of an ad hoc ­working group on the Durban ­platform for enhanced action. This international committee is tasked with putting in motion a post-2020 universal and legal climate agreement and finding ways to raise global ambitions to act on climate change before 2020.

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Fiona Macleod
Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod is an environmental writer for the Mail & Guardian newspaper and editor of the M&G Greening the Future and Investing in the Future supplements.

She is also editor of Lowveld Living magazine in Mpumalanga.

An award-winning journalist, she was previously environmental editor of the M&G for 10 years and was awarded the Nick Steele award for environmental conservation.

She is a former editor of Earthyear magazine, chief sub-editor and assistant editor of the M&G, editor-in-chief of HomeGrown magazines, managing editor of True Love and production editor of The Executive.

She served terms on the judging panels of the SANParks Kudu Awards and The Green Trust Awards. She also worked as a freelance writer, editor and producer of several books, including Your Guide to Green Living, A Social Contract: The Way Forward and Fighting for Justice.

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