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The year of collapse

Tan Copsey

Readinch

Next week, international climate-change negotiations begin in Cancún following 12 months of setbacks. Tan Copsey explains why chances of serious progress towards a global climate treaty are looking slim.

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The need for action on climate change has never been more urgent. Greenhouse-gas emissions for 2010 are likely to be some of the highest ever recorded. Global temperatures are also likely to approach record highs. But as John Ashton, the United Kingdom’s special representative on climate change, recently noted: “Negotiations are not as important as the political context in which they are taking place.” After a series of setbacks, the political context for negotiations in Cancún is dire.

Almost one year ago exactly, negotiations opened in Copenhagen. At that point, it seemed possible that a political agreement could be reached that might then lead to a legally binding treaty on climate change in Cancún.

No one will need reminding that the Copenhagen talks did not go well. They were marked by tussles between US and Chinese leaders, who had little political mandate to negotiate. The European Union was effectively sidelined. A small faction within the Group of 77 developing nations disrupted negotiations and ignored many of their own members, including vulnerable small-island states. And all of this happened against a backdrop of increasing economic uncertainty in the developed world and “climategate”, a clever though scientifically inconsequential public relations stunt by climate “sceptics”. In this context, the agreement of the Copenhagen Accord, a limited document that was “taken note of” by the conference, was a reasonable achievement.

As 2010 began, it seemed possible that progress could be made on “operationalising” constituent elements of the Copenhagen Accord -- Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (a tool for protecting forests, known as REDD-plus); a new mechanism facilitating technology development and transfer; and finance for adaptation and mitigation through the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund. A binding deal might be achieved at some point in the future but in the near term, concrete steps would be taken in those areas where there was agreement. The United Nations process and institutions were obviously in need of reform, but seemed likely to be supplemented and reinforced by political decisions taken in other fora including the G20 and the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF), a platform for climate-change dialogue between 17 nations, launched in 2009.

Unfortunately the accord itself remains a contentious document. Most developing countries see it as mere “political guidance” and, as such, essentially irrelevant. It doesn’t help that some of the language it uses, including on adaptation, creates new uncertainty about which nations should receive funding first.

Meanwhile, progress in the G20 and the MEF meetings has been limited at best. As in United Nations negotiations, there is simply no political will to move forward. These meetings have featured re-runs of familiar conflicts over the form of any future agreement on climate change, the depth of cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions made by developed nations and how actions by major developing countries should be monitored.

Developments outside of international negotiations have made things worse. In the United States, climate-change legislation failed to pass through the Senate, the upper chamber of Congress. Recent electoral gains by climate “sceptic” Republicans have further dented prospects of the United States taking significant action on climate change at the federal level in the near future. As a result, the US will have a limited mandate to negotiate and is likely to continue to play a spoiler role in international negotiations, reducing the level of global ambition and alienating developing countries.

But it isn’t just the United States scaling back its levels of ambition. This has been a bad year for action on climate change in most developed countries. Japan is set to delay passing key climate-change legislation, Australia has hesitated on implementing emissions trading and Canada, which is likely to miss its Kyoto Protocol targets by a huge margin, is concentrating its efforts on lobbying for weaker international rules on emissions. Carbon markets have reflected this uncertainty – the price of carbon has remained low in the European Emissions Trading Scheme.

Developing nations have expressed their frustration and disappointment in differing ways. Small island states, which are already facing negative impacts from climate change, continue to advocate for immediate action wherever possible, while maintaining that they – as some of the most vulnerable nations – should have first access to adaptation funds. A group of Latin American nations, including major oil-producers Venezuela and Ecuador, met at a civil-society conference in Bolivia in April and agreed a series of radical proposals, which were subsequently presented at United Nations climate negotiations in Tianjin. Thus far, these proposals, which take the most extreme demands of developing nations, have only served to disrupt and delay negotiations as there is simply no prospect of any developed country agreeing to them.

UNFCCC negotiations have become heated. Disagreements over verification of developing-world efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions culminated in heated exchanges between the United States and China at recent negotiations in Tianjin. At the June summit in Bonn, frustrations with Saudi Arabian attempts to delay negotiations by seeking compensation for potential loss of future oil revenues boiled over: representatives for NGOs Oxfam and WWF were suspended after they stole Saudi nameplates from negotiations and dropped them in a toilet.

It is now likely that no new global agreement will be agreed before the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012, and that there will therefore be a gap before the second begins. In June, the United Nations presented a series of options to either extend the protocol or make provisional changes to its structure to prevent legal limbo. These measures are prudent given the desolate landscape of global climate negotiations and are another indicator of complete collapse in confidence that a new agreement can be formed in the near future.

So how do we move forward after a year in which nearly everything that could go wrong, went wrong? What would have to happen for Cancún to be considered a success? Negotiators at the summit will do well to rebuild trust. Progress is possible on issues like adaptation, establishing a new climate fund, reducing emissions by protection forests and technology transfer and deployment. Developed nations also need to show good faith by fulfilling pledges of fast-start finance. This must be done in a transparent manner – so as to avoid accusations that development aid is being double counted.

In the long-term, it may be that we are moving away from the form of top-down international cooperation on climate change encouraged by the United Nations process towards more voluntary, pledge and review systems. Even if this is the case, the UNFCCC will continue to provide an essential service by facilitating efforts on issues like adaptation.

Ultimately, bottlenecks and disagreements are unavoidable in the absence of political will. Nations like China and the United States will need to provide their negotiators with wider political mandates if we are to ever agree a more comprehensive deal or create a framework that leads to real, global reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.

 

Tan Copsey is development manager at chinadialogue.

Homepage image from 350.org shows a "human hurricane" in Mexico City, staged ahead of Cancún to demonstrate Mexico's vulnerability to climate change .

 

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另一个观点

中国及大部分其他发展中国家对全球变暖与碳排放到底有什么看法?

正确的答案可能会让你有点吃惊

http://ourmaninsichuan.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/low-carbon-plot-or-why-cancun-has-already-failed/

Another point of view

What does China, and much of the developing world really think of global warming and carbon emissions?

The answers may surprise you somewhat.

http://ourmaninsichuan.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/low-carbon-plot-or-why-cancun-has-already-failed/


回复:另外一个观点

如果这在现实中有任何依据的话都会令人感到惊奇。但事实上没有。勾红洋是一个中国作家的个例。他“回收”了美国气候怀疑论者的伪科学,并且把它重新包装为新的形式来吸引一些中国的民族主义者,即自认为代表中国真实的想法甚至发展中国家真实想法的人。这些观点远离了主流思想并且在发展中国家也没有得到广泛的认可。

Re: another point of view

It would be surprising if it had any basis in reality. But it does not. It is an absurd suggestion -- and completely unsupported by evidence -- that Gou Hongyang -- an isolated example of a Chinese writer who recycles climate "sceptic" pseudoscience from the US and repackages it in a format to appeal to a few Chinese nationalists -- represents "what China really thinks" or even what the "developing world" really thinks. Such views are far, far from the mainstream and not popularly subscribed to in the developing world.

不吃惊

都这个样子了,还有什么大惊小怪的?

Not surprised

It's all like this, what's the big deal?

你们这些人

你们需要将你们自动添加的超链接剔除掉,或者至少对问题有个敏锐的看法。

You Guys

Need to get your automatic hyperlinking sorted out, or at least have a clever macaque on the case.


联合国的笑话

联合国可能还不如“奥组委”吧。花着世界人民的钱,成果寥寥,开它干嘛呢?当然了,很多人没去过墨西哥的坎昆,那可是世界度假胜地哟。

The United Nations joke

The UN is probably no better than the Olympic Committee. Spending the money of the people of the world with little results, why should we open it? Of course, many people haven't been to Cancun in Mexico, the world famous holiday resort.


气候适应和碳罪恶俱乐部

对于气候适应的商讨应该不是重点。气候变化越被削减(我们越多减少碳足迹),气候适应需要也越少。气候适应就是砸钱的说法也很虚伪。那些已经受气候变化造成的苦更愿意我们自己减排。另外,大部分的资金也不能到达受灾民众手中,而且他们对气候变化有非常少的责任。
我们这些碳罪恶的人必须减少及时享乐,更多地为碳无辜的人着想。碳罪恶的国家,那些所谓的目前和历史上的温室气体排放元凶,包括中国,印度,美国和日本,(他们都有庞大的贫穷人口),不能作为气候适应资金的资助对象了,直到碳无辜国家获得资金保证来对包括穷人在内的所有居民的气候适应。
如果在受灾国气温翻倍,UNFCCC针对气候适应的讨论将一无是处。

Adaptation and the carbon-guilty club

Negotiations on adaptation should be the lowest priority. The more climate change is mitigated (/ the more we reduce our carbon footprint), the less adaptation will be necessary. It is disingenuous to suggest that adaptation depends on handing out lots of money. The people whose livelihoods and land is already suffering from climate change would much prefer us to reduce our carbon. Further, much of any funding will not reach the people most affected by climate change and, importantly, most of these have contributed least to it.

We the carbon-guilty should think less about immediate gratification and more about the carbon-innocent. Carbon-guilty countries – defined as the leading current and past emitters of greenhouse gases, from China and India to the USA and Japan (all of which have large populations of poor people) should not be eligible for adaptation funding until carbon-innocent countries have embarked, with guaranteed funding, on adaptation strategies focussed not only on their poor, but also on their habitats.

There will be of little value if any UNFCCC discussion on how to achieve such levels of adaptation when, within this century, temperatures have risen by double.


没有线索

“那些遭受到气候变化带来的苦难的人们以及受难地区非常希望我们减少二氧化碳排放。”你确定那些人是这么想的吗?你懂不懂经济和钱的力量?

Having no clue...

"People whose livelihoods are already suffering from climate change would much prefer us to reduce carbon emission." Are you sure those people really think in YOUR way? Do you understand economics and the power of money?

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