The issue of excess emissions allowances – or hot air – is shaping up to be the biggest controversy of climate talks taking place in Doha.
As the talks enter their crucial second week, observers are openly saying that the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP2) – the only legally binding agreement in the world on climate change – is at risk due in the main to the stances of Russia and Poland.
Back in 1997, economies in transition in Eastern European were given targets higher than 'business-as-usual'. At the start of the Kyoto Protocol, some countries that participated received an upper limit on emissions in the form of carbon credits – known as Assigned Amount Units (AAUs). If these countries emitted less than their upper limit, they could trade the surplus as carbon credits. 'Hot air' is the biggest loophole in the KP. It has been estimated that there will be up to 13 billion tonnes worth of AAUs left over when phase one of the KP’s first commitment period ends in four weeks’ time. Each credit equals one tonne of CO2 in the atmosphere and contributes to climate change. The main reason for a surplus of AAUs in some countries is almost entirely due to the decline in the economies of Eastern European countries such as Russia, Ukraine and Poland.
Europe is deeply split on the issue and Poland is insisting on the full carry-over of hot air into the second commitment period and beyond (post-2020). Most Western European countries prefer to have a deal with environmental integrity but are letting Poland call the shots. If the EU capitulates to coal-rich Poland, Europe could end up losing its credibility as a climate leader.
"European ministers this week need to fight for the retirement of 13 billion tonnes of CO2 and commit itself to a 30% EU emissions reduction target, or they will put climate and the survival of millions of peoples further at risk. Any bad compromise with Poland or Russia will serve the interests of the fossil fuel industry and will prevent important investments into renewable energies," says Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace climate campaigner. “The European ministers need to vote either for catastophic climate change or for the survival of millions of people.”
Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s Global Climate & Energy Initiative says countries in Doha must acknowledge what science is telling us about the state of the world’s climate. “The reality of a 4 degree warmer world is staring us in the face. Ministers of EU countries, Russia and Ukraine, at the Doha negotiations have an obligation to act with urgency and to do everything within their power to make real cuts to CO2 emissions. They cannot allow these countries to block the need to raise ambition in these talks by allowing trading of AAUs under the KP2,” she says. “The idea of trading in “hot air” must be stopped in its tracks if we are to have even a small chance to slow down global warming. Their failure to act will be shameful and places agreement on KP2 at risk.”