UN Climate Chief Commits to Kyoto, But Uncertainty Over Treaty's Future Grows

G77 Calls on Obama 'To Join' Kyoto Now

Dec 10, 2009

Reporting from Copenhagen

UN climate chief Yvo de Boer stressed today that the Kyoto Protocol will live on despite wishes from rich nations to dump it. Otherwise, he said, the world would have no legal instrument beyond 2012 through which to slow global climate change.

"The Kyoto Protocol will survive and ... must survive," de Boer told reporters on Day 4 of the two-week summit in the Danish capital.

"There is no good reason at this moment to abandon it."

This is especially true now that a new global warming treaty has been essentially delayed until the end of 2010.

"It generally takes a little time for a new legal instrument to be ratified and to enter into force," de Boer said.

In the case of the Kyoto Protocol, the "little time" it took was eight years.

Perhaps most worryingly for de Boer is that Kyoto's dissolution would scuttle the carbon market already set up to mitigate rich country emissions.

"There is no [other] provision currently under the [UN climate change convention] for carbon markets to function," he said.

De Boer's comments came as the unknown fate of the 12-year-old agreement continues to cast a cloud over climate change talks in Copenhagen.

Contrary to common opinion, the Kyoto treaty does not run out in 2012. Just one piece of the protocol puzzle is set to expire by then — the first round of carbon-reduction pledges from the 37 rich nations that ratified it. As per the Bali Action Plan of 2007, Copenhagen, which ends on Dec. 18, must produce Stage 2 of those commitments.

For the poor, this is paramount.

Kyoto contains the "fundamental principles of equity, common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities," says the Third World Network, a research and advocacy institution, in a new analysis released in Copenhagen.

These principles make sure the wealthiest nations carry the heaviest burden to combat climate, given the huge historical role they played in polluting the planet.

To ensure the rich continue to pay their "fair share," developing nations want Kyoto to persist for second and subsequent commitment periods. They also want much tougher targets for the rich — a total 40 percent cut from 1990 levels by 2020. President Obama has said the U.S. Congress is likely to agree to no more 17 percent below 2005 levels, equivalent to about a cut of about 4 percent from 1990 levels.

America is not a party to the Kyoto Protocol. But in the second track of climate negotiations, which include the U.S, the poor have called on the Obama administration to commit to the same science-based 40 percent target. They also want this "convention track" to uphold Kyoto's commitment to fairness for the developing world. Meaning, they want no mandatory obligations for themselves.

Rich nations see things differently.

The EU and the U.S. favor a single new treaty that wipes out Kyoto and forces rapidly industrializing governments, namely China, India and Brazil, to embrace mandatory carbon cuts.

To the disappointment of Kyoto advocates, America remains adamant in Copenhagen that it will not be part of the Kyoto Protocol, in any form.

"We are certainly not going to become part of the Kyoto Protocol ... and we're not going to do something that's Kyoto with another name," U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern said in a press conference on Wednesday.

Stern's statement did not stop Ambassador Lumumba Stanislas Di-Aping of Sudan, speaking for the G77 and China, from urging Obama on Thursday "to join" the Kyoto Protocol.

At the time, Obama was in Oslo, Norway, collecting the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The U.S. president made one reference to climate change in his acceptance speech, saying "the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, more famine, more mass displacement — all of which will fuel more conflict for decades."

Kyoto's Fate Uncertain

Observers say the Kyoto Protocol could survive a second commitment period that would keep it around through 2017 — without the U.S, again. But it may have to be based on an agreement that in the treaty's third commitment period the world would get a unified global warming protocol.

The latest version of the leaked negotiating draft, called the "Copenhagen agreement," appears to follow this line. It extends the existing protocol, at least temporarily, while at the same time hammering out a new, wider legal treaty that would capture the U.S. and eventually merge the two tracks.

The G77 is strongly opposed to this option for its ambition to kill Kyoto and create stricter obligations for poorer nations.

When asked his opinion of a scenario that keeps Kyoto for now but unites it later with something new and broader, Brazilian negotiator Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado said on Thursday:

"This possibility is not on the table."

According to de Boer, there are currently five proposals on the table for new legal instruments, and it's still anyone's guess which will win out.

"Nobody knows what the outcome of this conference is exactly going to be," he said.

There is one major consensus that has emerged, however: Whatever language sticks must be unambiguous.

"What comes out of this conference needs to be clear – both on the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol and on the process we are establishing under the convention," de Boer said.

The biggest fear at this late stage, he said, is having to renegotiate the same political minefields over and over again.

"You have to safeguard against multiple interpretations which lead leads to further negotiations on things we thought were settled," said de Boer.

 

See also:

Poor Nations Issue 'Save Kyoto Protocol' Plea in Lead-Up to Copenhagen

Obama's Treaty-Making Powers Broader Than Recognized

Poor Demand Binding Treaty in Copenhagen, as Rich Squash Hope

Adapting and Mitigating Climate Change: A Deeply Nuanced Approach

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