Twelve years ago the Conferences of the Parties (COP-3) met in December 1997 to hash out the details of the Kyoto Protocol. A watershed moment in the global recognition of and fight against climate change, the Kyoto Protocol introduced many of the tools in use today for emissions reductions: emissions trading markets, Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMS) for developing countries and joint implementation provisions. However, as much promise as the Protocol showed, it is widely viewed as a failed effort. No doubt, the United States’ refusal to ratify the treaty did, to a great extent seal its fate, with both Clinton and G.W. Bush administrations and congressional counterparts opting out of the treaty, citing harm to business interests and dismay over lack of emissions goals for developing countries. Since 1992 global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have risen by 38%, U.S. emissions by 20% and Chinese by 150%; the EU’s have fallen by only 0.8%. (See shared folder for an in-depth analysis of GHG trends.)
With the Kyoto treaty expiring in 2012, exciting times are ahead as representatives from 192 nations will convene in Copenhagen, Denmark this December to discuss the future of climate change mitigation. The meeting will take place against a background of increasingly dire warnings from climate change experts on the severity of the threat. This week’s Climate Change Congress, also in Copenhagen, drives home the pressing need for a more robust treaty in the upcoming COP-15 meetings, with the headliner speech announcing that sea level rise will be greater and more dramatic than previously thought. Dr. David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey stated, “It is now clear that there are going to be massive flooding disasters around the globe.” Obviously, the consequences for low-lying countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh are potentially devastating. The time for action is now.
International focus is heavily centered on the United States and its ability to be a spoiler or a catalyst for change. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged U.S. politicians to take the lead at Copenhagen to reach a “historic agreement.” Janusz Reiter, Poland’s climate ambassador, voiced hope that America would do so: “Unlike in last year, no one will have the suspicion that the U.S. administration has a hidden agenda and is trying to undermine the UNFCC process.” UNFCCC executive secretary Yvo de Boer echoed that “adopting an ambitious national target” could greatly aid progress at Copenhagen.
Still unresolved, however, is the role developing countries will play and how much they must reduce emissions. South African Environmental Affairs Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk voiced a common complaint among developing nations that major industrialized countries such as the U.S., Canada and Russia are doing a poor job as global leaders and without international assistance South Africa could not hope to reduce emissions more than 10%. Pessimistically, the Wall Street Journal pointed out that the global recession will mean less money for environmental projects, carbon markets and emissions reduction regimes.
What hope is there for a binding and effective treaty emerging from Copenhagen? How will tensions between industrial and developing nations be resolved, if they are resolvable? A copy of the EU’s proposal for Copenhagen is in the shared folder. What of the targets for developed and developing nations and will the financial stipulations be enough?