Article by Guest Contributor: Joelle Westlund

Bangladesh Floods (source: oneworld.net)

A week into the climate talks in Cancun, developing countries seem to be witnessing a regression in commitments to the mitigation of climate change. The contention over the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol has now increased with Japan’s new stance. On December 3, 2010, Japan joined Canada, Russia, and the U.S. in the position that the binding agreement should not extend beyond 2012. Such a transition in perspective will likely weaken the potential for China, India and other developing countries to push forward with climate agreements.

After Wednesday’s review of the Protocol’s 2010 performance by the CDM Executive Board, various countries welcomed improvements on the current program. Presently, the program enables developed countries to offset their emissions through projects in developing countries; consequently, any reduction or move away from the Protocol would have substantial effects on developing countries. Reforms for the program called for greater communication, more transparency, shorter wait times for registration and issuance, and better baseline and monitoring methodologies. However, the negotiations of these reforms remain ambiguous.

A new proposal issued by a subsidiary organization of the UNFCCC – the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) – explains the opposition of developing countries towards the expiring Protocol. One of the main tenets of the AWG-LCA is that all countries should reduce their emissions equally. Considering that collectively, the U.S., China, Japan, and the European Union are responsible for 63 percent of global emissions (and only constitute 20 percent of the world’s population), reforms impart significant inequitable responsibility. In addition, the proposal disregards China and Bolivia’s requests for flexible funding to accommodate developing nations, which would limit the availability of subsidized clean technology. In addition, developing countries have gone on to say that rich countries, facing austerity cuts at home are dressing up old promises as new, with planned spending amounting to $29.8 billion.

Thus, Japan’s new position will no doubt weaken the posture of developing countries. The inability, or rather the unwillingness, of developed countries to assist developing nations to adapt to scenarios like droughts, flooding, disease, food shortages and population migration forced by climate change will be formalized and instituted if Kyoto’s successor agreement is implemented. As China’s special representative for climate change negotiations, stated, “to end the Kyoto Protocol… [t]his is a very worrying movement.” And in fact it is. As the most vulnerable regions, many of these developing countries are as much incapable of adapting to the repercussions of global warming, as they are unaccountable. Venezuela and Bolivia went on to say it was “unacceptable” and incontrovertibly suggests “there is no chance whatsoever of a second period of pledges here in Cancun.”

On the other hand, China and India are currently the world’s largest developing countries polluters, and compromise will be essential for any progress in the final week. Tension remains high with the stubborn “all or nothing” approach the U.S. has adapted and will likely maintain until these large developing countries shows signs of negotiation. Achieving a so-called “balanced package” has been challenged logistically because of the uncertainties surrounding the goals that these countries have yet to agree upon.

India has attempted to clarify its position and help facilitate an understanding between the U.S. and China by proposing a global emissions monitoring system that could become the centerpiece of a compromise. But India, among other developing countries, remains on the extension of the Kyoto Protocol saying it is a key element to any agreement that might be made. India’s attempts to iron out differences and “trying to figure out how to break down some of the barriers” between the U.S. and China has made a notable difference. India’s relationship with BASIC will make it “hard for the Chinese not to accept a proposal from a major partner” because the alternative of rejecting it would “isolate China”. But this monitoring system would require substantive transparency and assurances of that on the part of all participants is dubious. India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has stated his goal of the system would be constructed “on the strict understanding that it is a facilitative process for transparency and accountability, and that it will not have any punitive implications of any sort.” The role in which developing and developed countries would play, however, will be quite different. The latter, industrialized countries like the United States, will be responsible for reporting on the progress of their emission reduction, while the former will be responsible for monitoring their mitigation actions. While this proposal can be understood to be naïve and overly ambitious, it is something that the U.S. appears to be comfortable with and this is crucial for breaking the deadlock between developed and developing countries.

And so, Christiana Figueres remains confident in the negotiations between China and the U.S., stating, “The start is constructive, it’s positive and we have very public expressions of the willingness to compromise.” Yet while this may be overly optimistic, India has brought forth a proposal that may bridge the gap in understanding and expectations between the world’s two largest emitters. Compromises concerning financial flows, technology transfers, and climate change commitments will require an end the positions in which, as Michael Levi stated, “Each side is reluctant to give things without getting them.”

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