Towards the New Climate Deal: The Trail from Accra

UN FlagWe're now nearly halfway to the New Climate Deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012. The deadline is 2009 in Copenhagen. While public attention was temporarily swept up by the Beijing Olympics, government negotiations have been plodding on for a week from the 21st to 27th last month.

According to the characteristically rose-tinted phraseology of the UN press release (PDF), "Important progress has been made during the latest round of United Nations-led climate change talks in Accra, Ghana, on key issues relating to a new international agreement to tackle global warming."

"We're still on track, the process has speeded up and governments are becoming very serious about negotiating a result in Copenhagen," declared Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Yvo de Boer, adding that outcomes have provided a "real basis" for real negotiations to begin in the next round of negotiations, which will be held in Poland's Poznan in December of this year.

The Accra talks were based on the agenda of last year's Bali Action Plan, which sought to strengthen the Kyoto Protocol and chart the long-term direction of the world's anti-global warming strategy. Which means by now, countries should be getting down ‘n' dirty in the nitty-gritty, such as innovating new procedures and mechanisms, as well as clarifying and fixing the loopholes in existing ones.

But just take a minute to run through the briefs, and what you see is the nightmarishly recurring theme of squabbles leading to North-South dichotomy that has cursed many attempts of global deal-making. The lines may vary, but the plot remains the same.

Theme 1: Unbridled Definition Dissection

The definition in question here, of course, is of the oft-quoted "common but differentiated responsibility" of developed and developing economies. From the start, ‘responsibility' was differentiated according to the categorization of the economically advanced ‘Annex I' and the less economically developed ‘non-Annex I' countries. Annex I accepts responsibility for their historical emissions and thus commits to binding reduction targets, while also picking up the tab for adaptation and progressive mitigation activities by non-Annex I, through their role in instruments such as CDM.

Developed countries' ambiguous insistence on acquiring the ‘meaningful participation of developing countries' was already evident since the Toyako G8 Summit. But in Accra, they made things clearer. A number of Annex I countries, led by the EU, repeatedly attempted to throw a monkey wrench in the proceedings by asking to differentiate non-Annex I countries into ‘advanced developing economies' from lesser ones based on GDP per capita, and calling for them to accept binding targets. Their reasoning - it's been 16 years since UNFCC and the world's a changed place, developing countries, except for the poorest ones like Africa and small islands, need to pull their weight in the global fight.

Quickly spotting another stalling tactic by developed countries to shirk their duty in cleaning up their own act, developing countries reacted angrily. Their response? That's right, it's been 16 years and your own emissions have increased. No matter how you debate it, you must first lead the way. Besides, it's not like we haven't been doing anything. Some of us have drawn up our own national plans, but we just don't have the technology, expertise and resources to implement them fully - which you've promised, but haven't delivered.

Developed countries tirelessly testing new ways of throwing around the ball of blame, developing economies hurl it back in disgust, while little islands and sub-saharan nations scream "Help ... We're dying!" at the sidelines. You call this progress?

Dollar signTheme 2: The Never-Materializing Money

For decades, developed countries have perfected the art of making ambitious money pledges for various developmental causes (and reneging on them), while developing countries continue to cry: show us the money! In Accra? Same old, same old.

While UNFCC provisions mandated that Annex I countries would bear the costs of mitigation and adaptation, Annex I countries have successfully dragged their feet on working out a realistic and effective way to mobilize funds and technology transfer that are so sorely needed in light of the urgency of the climate crisis. Developing countries know this too well, and have pushed forward with concrete proposals. Read about them here and here (MS Word). If only developed countries would come to their senses, and study them seriously in time for Poznan, we'd have a critical breakthrough that counts as real progress.

Some ‘Good' News

Looking on the bright side, some do think that significant headway were made regarding the controversial REDD (reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation) issue. Agreement was reached that preventing deforestation is a significant ‘low hanging fruit' of mitigation, methodological issues and differences of opinion were thrashed out (read here). A working framework seems within reach by 2009, especially because REDD is linked to CDM, which enjoys strong support of developed economies. But thorny implications (pdf) remain, as Friends of the Earth would remind us.

Sectoral approaches also received a much-needed round of clarification, more so if they could help resolve trade-related problems. Read here.

However, as long as rhetorical paralysis (Theme 1) and the financial fudging (Theme 2) are left unresolved to debilitate future climate talks, there's more reason for gloom than cheer. The way things are going, it seems that in the Machiavellian game of international diplomacy, developed countries know that they have the upper hand, especially if they're striving to be the ‘last man alive' in the storm of scientifically-predicted disasters that would ensue if we slide further down the slopes of inaction.

Will we see a re-enactment of Kyoto's ‘negotiation by exhaustion', where parties each hold on to their cards up until the last minute, giving way to another loophole-ridden agreement? We'll find out next year. In the mean time, I sure hope that Americans will end up voting for the right president with the right deck of cards.

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  • Posted on Sept. 23, 2008. Listed in:

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