Thursday, December 10, 2009

Splits threaten climate change agreement

Major splits are beginning to show at the COP15 Climate Change summit in Copenhagen, less than three days into proceedings. Controversy began before the conference had even started with hacked emails suggesting cover-ups and collusion between scientists and multi-national corporations. But within a day of opening, leaked details of an agreement seemed to suggest that plans between developed nations had already been finalised before discussions had begun.

The document, which is being referred to as the 'Danish text' was obtained by the Guardian newspaper in Britain and within hours it was creating upset amongst poorer and less developed nations. It was being interpreted by some countries as setting unequal limits on per-capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals.

But there have also been disagreements amongst the developing world. Small island states and poor African nations vulnerable to climate impacts have laid out demands for a legally-binding deal tougher than the Kyoto Protocol. But this has been opposed by richer developing states such as China, which fear tougher action would curb their growth. The disputes have resulted in a suspension of negotiations, as demanded by the small island nation of Tuvalu, until the issue could be resolved.

As for the draft text obtained by the Guardian newspaper, it is likely to have changed considerably since it was issued on 27th November. But within three hours of the "Danish text" becoming public, Lumumba Di-Aping, the Sudanese chairman of the group of 132 developing countries known as G77 plus China, spelt out exactly why the poor countries he represents were so incensed. "The text robs developing countries of their just and equitable and fair share of the atmospheric space. It tries to treat rich and poor countries as equal," Di-Aping said.

The text is a draft proposal for the final political agreement that is intended to be signed by national leaders including Barack Obama and Gordon Brown at the end of the Copenhagen summit on 18th December. It was prepared in secret by a group of individuals known as "the circle of commitment" but understood to include the US and Denmark. The leak forced the UN's top climate diplomat to respond. "This was an informal paper ahead of the conference given to a number of people for the purposes of consultations. The only formal texts in the UN process are the ones tabled by the chairs of this Copenhagen conference at the behest of the parties (involved)," Yvo de Boer said.

But the representatives of developing nations have been unconvinced with many saying they feel betrayed by the intent of the proposals in the draft. "This text destroys both the UN convention on climate change and the Kyoto protocol. This is aimed at producing a new treaty, a new legal initiative that throws away the basis of [differing] obligations between the poorest and most wealthy nations in the world," said Di-Aping. The rifts created has resulted in the suggestion that the text might be withdrawn because of its reception by China, India and other developing countries. 
Few figures are included in the text as these would be added later after negotiation by world leaders. However, it does seek to hold global temperature rises to 2°C, a safe limit according to scientists, and it mentions the sum of $10 billion a year in aid to help poor countries cope with climate change, starting in 2012.

The reaction by the G77 reaction was seen by some developed world analysts as an exaggerated but fundamentally correct response to the way that the US, the UK and other rich countries have sought to negotiate a deal. Development NGOs have been particularly scathing in their criticism. Antonio Hill, climate policy adviser for Oxfam International, said, "This is only a draft, but it highlights the risk that when the big countries come together, the small ones get hurt."
Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists described it as "a starting point document" noting that on the 1st and 2nd of December Danish negotiators consulted with representatives of the developed and developing world in Copenhagen. "I assume they made pretty extensive revisions to that based on the comments they got and based on inputs from a variety of negotiating blocs" he said. "What they (Denmark) put out early next week or whenever they decide to actually put it out to Ministers will probably be very different to what is on the Guardian website, but who knows, this is in Danish hands."

The situation does not appear to be resolved and the splits between developing nations may only complicate negotiations for a meaningful deal. On Wednesday afternoon the Tuvalu delegation walked out when it appeared that the issues they had raised might be sidelined. Private discussions will now continue behind the scenes among a small group of concerned countries.

Tuvalu's negotiator Ian Fry made clear that his country could accept nothing less than a full discussion of its proposal for a new legal protocol, which was submitted to the UN climate convention six months ago. "My prime minister and many other heads of state have the clear intention of coming to Copenhagen to sign on to a legally binding deal," Fry said. "Tuvalu is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, and our future rests on the outcome of this meeting."

His sentiments have been backed by other members of the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), including the Cook Islands, Barbados and Fiji, as well as some poor African countries including Sierra Leone, Senegal and Cape Verde. Some have demanded that the rise in the global average temperature be limited to 1.5°C, and greenhouse gas concentrations stabilised at 350 parts per million (ppm) rather than the 450ppm favoured by developed countries and some major developing nations.

But fast developing nations such as China, India and South Africa oppose the lower target of 350ppm because they feel that meeting it would inhibit their economic development. They also oppose Tuvalu's call for a new legally-binding protocol to run alongside the existing Kyoto Protocol, arguing that the existing convention and Kyoto agreement are tough enough already. China, amongst other countries, have also re-iterated their calls that industrialised nations pledge bigger cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions.

There have also been conflicts of a more down to earth nature. China has protested over an incident which prevented a top diplomat from entering the vast Bella Center where the conference is being held. China's lead negotiator Su Wei has said he is "extremely unhappy" that a Chinese minister was barred from entry on three consecutive days.

He said the unnamed minister had been trying to enter since Monday but failed despite having two security badges. It is reported that the badges were confiscated by security guards on Wednesday morning. The reasons for the diplomat's being refused entry is unclear, but it epitomises the petty squabbling that is dominating a conference whose goal is to save the world from climate change. If this is the best that world's leaders can offer let us hope the global warming skeptics are right. 

Over the coming days several new texts will emerge and out of them a possible contender to be carried by consensus of all the countries. Despite the controversy Di-Aping said that the G77 remained committed to the talks. "We will not walk out of the talks at this late hour, because we will not allow the failure of Copenhagen. But we will not sign an inequitable deal; we will not accept a deal that condemns 80 percent of the world population to further suffering and injustice."

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China with additional reporting from worldnewsreview in Copenhagen, Denmark

No comments: