The climate summit in Copenhagen a year ago inspired many catchy nicknames starting with “hopenhagen” to portray early expectations that it would deliver a solution to the climate crisis, and later “nopenhagen” and the famous “flopenhagen” capturing its failure.
Given the deeply flawed Copenhagen Accord (CA) and the dynamics at that summit, there were hardly any expectations from the recently concluded 16th Conference of Parties (COP 16) in Cancun, Mexico, and observers would not have been astonished if this summit too had collapsed without further progress. Probably for this reason, many commentators including several progressive groups have been not merely pleasantly surprised that the Cancun summit actually delivered a set of agreed documents collectively termed the Cancun Agreements, but have even broadly welcomed it as a positive development that bodes well for the next Summit at Durban, South Africa in December 2011 when a legally binding Treaty to replace the extant Kyoto Protocol is slated to be finalized. To be fair, many progressive commentators and activist groups such as Greenpeace and the Tck-tck-tck campaign have qualified their positive assessment by noting that while Cancun may not have delivered the deep emissions cuts required for averting the climate crisis, it appears to have at least laid the foundation for a possible global agreement at Durban and has certainly restored the credibility of the multilateral negotiations process under UN aegis. A frequently heard phrase in commentaries was that the Cancun outcome has saved the UN process, even if has not saved the planet, a glass half full in that sense.
A closer look at what was actually decided at Cancun, and equally important what was not said, would reveal a very different picture. It would show that in fact all the disastrous formulations in the US-driven Copenhagen Accord have been carried through and formalized at Cancun, and will now inevitably form the basis for any new global climate agreement arrived at in Durban next year. Much has been made of the better atmospherics and greater transparency in Cancun compared to Copenhagen, and therefore the big different between the two Summits. But the clear continuity in content has prompted some radical critics to label the recent COP 16 Summit “Cancunhagen.”
The Kyoto Protocol, with its crucial distinction between developed and developing countries, was critically wounded in Copenhagen and has virtually been buried at Cancun. It is now almost certain that the Kyoto Protocol will be replaced by a single framework for all categories of nations. Binding targets for developed countries decided on the basis of the science regarding sustainable limits for atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations now appear set to be replaced by a pledge-and-review process with highly uncertain outcomes. And even these voluntary emission reduction pledges will be “achieved” mostly through offsets especially reduced deforestation in developing countries, CDM projects and other market-based mechanisms that have clearly failed in the past. Discussions on funding and technology transfer to assist developing countries have advanced in Cancun, but hedged in by numerous conditionalities. Glass three-fourths empty one would say.
End of Kyoto The Copenhagen Accord forged by countries accounting for over three-fourths of current emissions, namely the developed countries and a few large developing countries such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa, and now signed by over 80 nations, followed US prescription very closely. At Copenhagen, the US pushed hard for a single framework to replace the Kyoto structure of binding emission cuts by developed countries and capability-based mitigation actions by developing countries. CA provided just such a framework in which both developed and large developing countries took on voluntary emission cuts or slowing down of growth rates, and also allowed the US to stick to its miserably low emission cut target of 3 percent below 1990 levels.
CA was simultaneously hailed as a major breakthrough and defensively projected as a temporary multi-lateral agreement, but in reality it dealt a major if not fatal blow to the Kyoto Protocol. By focusing attention on future emissions of contemporary “major emitters”, it glossed over the prime cause of climate change, namely the historical stock of accumulated emissions amounting to around 80 percent of atmospheric greenhouse gases. This diluted the crucial differential between developed and developing countries as regards responsibility for creating the problem, and therefore for its solution. It also gave an excuse to developed countries to avoid compensatory reparations for damages caused, and removed finance and technology transfers from developed to developing countries as a pre-condition for the latter to undertake mitigation actions besides helping them to adapt to climate change. The US and its Northern allies sought to achieve the same ends at Copenhagen also by subverting the negotiations process, by focusing sharply on the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) track, which deals mainly with mitigation actions by developing countries and related steps by developed nations,, rather than on the Kyoto Protocol (KP) track where binding commitments by developed countries were to be taken up.
All these struck at the roots of the Kyoto Protocol but a fig leaf of adherence to it was maintained at Copenhagen. So too at Cancun, except that it covers very little now.
It is telling that in the Cancun Agreements, the LCA Document is of 30 pages, the one on Forests again mainly in developing countries 9 pages, and the Kyoto Protocol document is just 2 pages long. And most of even this brief document does not prescribe any binding targets but only “takes note of” and goes on to dilute whatever low voluntary commitments have been made in the CA. Most of the meat of the Cancun Agreements is contained in the LCA text and it can safely be predicted that the LCA text will form the “single framework” basis for any agreement that emerges at Durban, and the KP text, which in any case operatively contains only an annexed listing of voluntary pledges as does the LCA document, will be incorporated within it. There is little doubt that the Kyoto Protocol was killed at Cancun. And what greater irony could there be than Japan itself inflicting the cruelest cut, announcing that it would not sign on to the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.
Serious climate consequences ahead Much has been made of phraseology in the KP text adopted at Cancun recognizing the IPCC’s recommendation of emission cuts by developed countries in the range of 25-40 percent below 1990 levels, and urging them “to raise the level of ambition of the emission reductions to be achieved by them individually or jointly.” It has been argued that this has resulted from pressure from developing countries and that it opens up the possibility of developed countries raising their CA pledges. That is wishful thinking indeed.
It is well known that the voluntary pledges of the CA, which have merely been reiterated at Cancun and will be appended to the KP text, are pitifully low and will definitely not be able to contain global temperature rise within 2 degrees C, the pious goal repeated ad nauseam for some time now cynically and in the full knowledge that it cannot be achieved with currently pledged emission reductions by the developed countries.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released an Emissions Gap Report on the eve of the Cancun Summit, compiled in coordination with 25 climate research institutions worldwide. The Report takes into account all the pledges made at Copenhagen and afterwards by all the developed countries, large developing nations and others together comprising the 85 countries that pledged to reduce emissions or constrain their growth as part of the Copenhagen Accord. The Report estimates that whereas keeping global temperature rise to within 2 degrees C would require that total emissions till 2020 should not exceed 44 billion tonnes or Giga tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e), even if all the CA pledges were adhered to, total emissions by 2020 would reach 53 GtCO2e leaving an emissions gap of 9 Giga tonnes. The Report further goes on to show that, if slightly more ambitious targets were adopted and if leniency were avoided in offsetting emissions against reduced deforestation or carry-forward of surplus emissions reductions from the first commitment period of Kyoto, then this gap could be reduced to 5 Gt. But even this would be only 60 percent of the requirement for containing temperature rise to 2 degrees C.
Worse, all the “leniency” scenarios feared by the UNEP fire specifically built-in and provided for in the KP text of the Cancun Agreements, showing that developed countries intend to fully exploit these. The Cancun KP text is riddled with qualifiers and escape clauses for developed countries. The text emphasizes that “emissions trading and the project-based mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol… [and] measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to enhance removals resulting from anthropogenic land use, land-use change and forestry activities shall continue to be available to Annex I Parties as means to meet their quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives.” In other words, Northern countries would pay developing countries like, say, Brazil or Indonesia to reduce deforestation and adjust this against their own emission reduction pledges. It also provides for the “carry-over of units from the first to the second commitment period,” a provision originally intended for adding-on first-period deficits to second commitment period targets, but here clearly intended to permit countries such as UK, Germany and an admittedly few developed countries to deduct excess emissions reductions achieved during the first period from second-period targets!
The much touted REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) scheme, now certain to be part of any future global arrangement, which has at its heart the correct idea of reducing deforestation and thus increasing the capacity to absorb carbon emissions, has now become the main mode of fund transfer from developed to developing countries, and a means for the former to avoid actual emissions reductions in their own countries. CDM Projects and other project-based financing, again used as offsets, will further reduce actual emissions reductions by developed countries.
Clearly, the emissions reduction pledges under the Copenhagen Accord, which have been endorsed at Cancun and are most likely to be the anchor of any global agreement to emerge from Durban next year, are grossly inadequate and could well see temperature rising around 3 degrees C by 2020 with devastating impact.
Fudging on funding The Cancun Agreements have reiterated the CA idea of fund transfers from developed to developing countries, but it is made clear in many ways that these funds are not to be seen as reparations but as financial assistance. Of course, least Developed Countries and Small Island States are happy that funds are actually beginning to flow, and indeed the US and other developed countries have used funding along with other inducements and threats as powerful levers to coerce these countries into the CA and Cancun frameworks, as the Wikileaks documents have also shown. But in the general sense of relief that some funding commitment has been made, and figures of fast-track funding of $30 billion by 2012 and $100 billion dollars a years by 2020 are being spoken of, the fine print seems to have escaped attention.
The LCA text reveals the many loopholes for developed countries to slip through, and the many strings tied to these “green funds.” The text makes clear that these supposedly additional funds would include forestry funds for offsets and “investments through international institutions” such as the World Bank which could also be soft loans! The seemingly large fund flows are also a mirage since the commitment is only to “a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion” which “may come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources”! And this only if developing countries behave properly, since these funds are conditional upon “meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation,” that is, developing countries should do what they are told and their compliance will be strictly supervised before being rewarded.
So yes, there is some justification to a feeling of relief, after the disappointment of Copenhagen, that at least some global agreement on climate change finally appears to be on the cards. And it is also good that this will be under UN aegis. But the agreement promises to be a poor one from the point of view of the science and what the planet needs, especially the poor in developing countries. Market mechanisms will now clearly dominate how emissions reductions take place, and the planet’s ecology has been fully commodified. And the UN process has been successfully moulded to yield an agreement that meets the requirements of the US and its Northern allies. Some may argue that at least Cancun produced some agreement, and that without this, despondency would have set in and disaster would have loomed around the corner. Some may raise a glass to cheer this so-called achievement, but there is little in the glass to drink from.