COP19 climate change conference in Warsaw, Poland18 November 2013- Super-typhoon Haiyan, after devastating the city in Central Philippines, entered northern Vietnam. At the same time negotiators and country delegates entered Warsaw in Central Poland for nineteenth   annual global meeting of United Nations on Climate Change-in UN jargon the meeting is called Conference of Parties (COP) to United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCCC)-that started on 11the November.

 Powerful tornado passed by in Mid-West in USA, killing people and making thousands homeless. At the same time the Ministers from all over the globe entered the National Stadium of Warsaw today for the second week of negotiations. They probably are having similar feeling of being ‘ lost’, as felt by the people in Philippines and Mid-West.

While I am boarding the plane to Warsaw from Paris, I feel that I will be entering into organized chaos for a week.

New Protocol-Alternative to Kyoto

The delegates have long unfinished agenda in front of them that may send the debates in the Stadium into ‘super spirals’ like hurricane Haiyan and Tornado of Mid West.   The ‘eye’ of this debate would however is to develop a new alternative to Kyoto Protocol-which has expired but extended till another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties would be ready by 2015. This new instrument is expected to enter into effect from 2020 onwards. Delegates till 22nd November, will have to make definite progress towards this goal while continuing to push for the ways to reduce the emissions of Carbon dioxide and limit the consequent global warming which are indirectly linked to the overwhelmingly destructive storms like Haiyan. The priority debate would also include how to adapt to the devastation caused by such hurricanes by minimizing the damage.

Secretariat of UNFCCC has coordinated all earlier eighteen annual global climate meeting. Roomy and spacious conference venues for such meetings and glittering ambience appear far removed from the scenes of hurricane-struck unfortunate people, famine-gripped hungry children and water-seeking poor women walking in deserts. Year after year, since the Convention was adopted in Rio in 1992, the delegates led by the diplomats talked and talked but hardly walked towards their goal of preventing  “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

Voluminous reports of these meetings and copious decisions that remain unimplemented are now riding over the waves of inertia completely overlooking the urgency and commitment with which climate change-a defining challenge of the 21st Century- need to be addressed.

Status of emissions-mixed results

As per the latest report released by European Commission (EC) few weeks back global CO2 emissions still continue to increase every single year since 1990–except in the year 2008 and 2009. The reduction of CO2 emissions in 2008/2009 were delinked to the UNFCCC related efforts. The recession of 2008-2009, together with high fuel prices in 2008, drove 2008 and 2009 emission levels down.

The global leaders have clearly failed to transform the words and the spirit of the Climate Convention into realities due to lack of political will and for the narrow national interests. In May 2013, an unprecedented concentration CO2 level of more than 400 ppm was measured in the atmosphere, up from 355 ppm in 1990.

The Kyoto Protocol, which is on the verge of   expiring, stipulated very modest specific emission reduction targets for the industrialized (the Annex I countries in Protocol jargon) countries in 1997 i.e. 5 per cent reduction by 2008-2012 by taking 1990 emissions as base level. Secretariat of UNFCCC in 2011 and the EC’s report in 2013 have made positive assessment of the GHG emission reductions by these 40 Annex I-countries. The conclusion from these assessments is that collectively the Annex I countries including the USA-who has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol- will comfortably meet and even exceed their collective emission reduction target, with a projected average reduction of 16 per cent for 2008-2012 as against target of 5 percent. This projection excludes emissions from both land use changes and deforestation and credits generated by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

 Emission reduction unrelated to Kyoto

Interestingly, the reasons for achieving these reduction targets are largely extraneous and have very little to do with the Kyoto Protocol implementation.

During a decade of 1990–1999, there was a large reduction in the emissions (nearly 40 percent) of the countries that were part of central planning of former Soviet Union. Their heavy industries that depended on the fossil fuel went through economic down turn due to their separation from Soviet block.  Remaining Annex I countries have experienced a limited increase in emissions from 1990–2006, followed by stabilization and a more marked decrease from 2007 onwards due to financial crisis. Though policy measures by Annex I countries did play some role, it is estimated that in next decade the emissions of these countries would still increase relative to base line.

Emissions in the developing countries

The focus now is turning, and rightly so, on the emissions by the developing countries (non-Annex I countries as they are called in Protocol language) that as per the terms of Protocol did not have to take any legally binding targets, even though Annex I countries agreed to take them in 1997. This was according to famous ‘ common but differentiated responsibility’ principle. Over the last two decades the ‘differentiation’ however, between developed and developing countries in terms of emissions is tapering off.

Developing countries now account for half of the global emissions. China’s emissions are now the largest in the world. It has left behind USA, the largest emitter of GHGs, in 2006. India’s emissions are now third largest after China and USA. Its emissions have surpassed that of Russia and Japan.

Over last decade, the steep rise of emissions from non-Annex I countries have given rise to the strong negotiations that aim to bring these countries to accept the legally binding reduction targets. Their ever-increasing emission has been a primary reason for USA not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Non-Annex I countries have however resisted those attempts at all international fora.

Efforts by developing countries-outside Kyoto

COP 19Curiously, beyond doubt, developing countries have been doing their share of efforts to bring down the emissions –albeit outside the Kyoto Protocol. India nearly 5 years back became the first country to develop National Action Plan on Climate Change with eight specific missions with its own targets on energy efficiency, renewable energy etc. India and China have also taken targets on reducing the energy intensity (Energy use per unit of GDP) there by decoupling the growth from energy use and decarbonizing the economy. Both countries have made substantial progress in these fronts. China’s emission of CO2, though still increasing, has slowed down in 2012. India’s emissions are still growing but not as steep as that of China.

Energy efficiency measures in the developing countries are being undertaken not for emission reduction but for economic reason. Renewable energy share is increasing mainly to bring down the foreign exchange outlay and to reduce the current account deficit.  Such measures do contribute to emission reduction but they are undertaken for the reasons not related to Kyoto objectives.

Thousands of small projects at the community level that utilize out-of-box methods to produce energy from non-fossil sources are being deployed to reduce pollution, enhance efficiency and reduce costs. Biofuels, public transport, solar cooking, wind mills, vegetarian diet are all surprisingly effective initiative that reduce the emissions but are undertaken for the reasons other than that.

The paradox that nearly ridiculed global efforts on Kyoto Protocol appeared when USA who never signed the Kyoto Protocol, reduced its emissions in 2012 to the 1993 level and heading for lower than the emissions in 1990. The reason for use of natural (shale gas) was simply replacement of coal to produce electricity. The country that was considered as villain in the Climate Change negotiations by nearly all countries have performed the best in emission reduction by remaining out of the Kyoto Protocol. The reasons were more related to technology development and serendipity and not the urge to achieve the Kyoto targets.

Do we at all need alternative to Kyoto?

That brings the key issue to the front. Do we at all need the new avatar of Kyoto that any way will take at least another 7 years to kick off? We created Kyoto more than 15 years back and did not work. Einstein said that, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” The question is: do we at all need an international instrument to address this issue?

Haiyan People-stand-among-debris-and-ruins-of-houses-destroyed-after-Super-Typhoon-Haiyan-battered-Tacloban-city-in-central-2718533Repeated debates on centralized financial fund for the developing countries, technology transfer from North to South, commitment by developed vs. developing countries, precautionary principle, common but differentiated responsibilities etc. have been long and they would continue to add to the frustration and inaction in future. Now a days, country delegates, after hours of debate during the meetings that run into wee and ungodly hours, celebrate the end by simply “ taking note” of the proposals without any commitment. The expectations from such global meetings are now so minimal that even ‘taking note’ of the proposals is considered as ‘success’ of the meeting.  In such sterile debates even the ‘goal posts’ get changed.  The original goal of the Climate Change convention was to contain stabilizes the GHG emissions. Later it became ‘ containing the temperature rise’ to certain level. Presently countries are debating if that temperature limit could be 2 deg centigrade above the pre-industrial level or 1.5 deg centigrade. Many experts believe that even limiting to 3 deg centigrade or more is not possible now due to the investment decisions already made by major economies of the world that would necessitate continued use of fossil fuel.

Meetings at Copenhagen, Cancun, Bali, Durban, Doha all appear to be merry-go-round. The global efforts to address climate change are being addressed at national and community level more effectively. Countries and communities are determining their own targets, getting their own partners, tying up the finances, negotiating the technologies and saving the costs. On the way they are reducing the emissions as well. The new thinking could be empowering the nations and communities for the change away from drudgery of international negotiations.

The negotiators entering the National Stadium for the last phase of Warsaw negotiations have an opportunity to think-out-of-box and relook at the ‘rules of the big game’ and change the system to address climate change. END

 (Author, Rajendra Shende  is IIT Alumni and Chairman of TERRE Policy Centre a think tank and former Director in UNEP)


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