29 Sep 2014
Emergence of a climate regime that works
1704 view(s)


The focus on current and per capita emissions has not led to the desired results




The UN Climate Summit was expected to develop an understanding on the contours of a new climate regime, by staying away the Prime Ministers of India, China, Russia and Germanysignalleda lack of confidence that such meetings outside of the formal UN negotiations are going to produce an outcome that will be fair to them. Will India and China now craft a response that protects the global climate and has the support of the majority of countries?


The issue is being reframed. At the Ministerial Meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate Change, held on 21 September 2014, John Kerry, Secretary of State of the United States, stressed out that “the solution to climate change is energy policy. If we make the right choices about how we build buildings, how we transport people, what we do with respect to providing electricity and power to our countries, this problem gets solved”..India pointed out that its energy needs would grow at least four times, reiterated its rejection of a universal approach as it needed more time for emissions reduction. Speaking at the UN Climate Summit, on 23 September, Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli said China's carbon emissions - the world's highest – “as early as possible… and …take on international responsibilities that are commensurate with our national conditions and actual capabilities." Clearly, the approach to dealing with climate change is moving away from an exclusive focus on emissions, the symptoms, to the causes of the problem.


Why are the developed countries reluctant to discuss the elements of the new climate agreement in the climate negotiations?


The United States and the European Union are pushing for a political agreement that will ‘update’ the Climate Treaty, of 1992, with voluntary pledges to enact national laws to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, with countries legally obligated to report their progress toward meeting those pledges. This is not ‘updating’ the Climate treaty but amending its defining feature – the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and it would institute a universal regime cloaked under a professed concern for the global environment.


Developed countries are already obligated to reduce emissions and it would be replaced with voluntary pledge while requiring developing countries to agree to a similar arrangement whereas the treaty recognises the low per-capita emissions of developing countries and that their emissions will grow to enable eradication of poverty.The result will be, as the ‘OECD environmental Outlook to 2050’ points out, that its member countries will contribute over 20 per cent to the increase in global emissions till 2050, when their per capita emissions will be nearly two times that of the others.


Second, According to the Report of the Secretary-General, International financial system and development, released in 25 July 2014, in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), developed countries agreed to the joint mobilization of $100 billion annually by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries. A preliminary assessment of fast-start finance and were paid out with similar modalities, largely through bilateral channels. Less than half of it was delivered as grants. Most of the $200 now pledged yesterday in New York will come from institutional investors, commercial banks and insurance companies. Climate financing more broadly remains focused on mitigation, while financing for adaption –critical for the most vulnerable countries –is lacking.


Third, economic concerns continue to dominate national policy making in developed countries. For all the concern about the global environment, currently, in the European Union coal-fired electricity generation capacity has been ramped up, and carbon emissions have been on the rise, fuelled by imports of cheap U.S. coal. Developing countries, learning from the developed countries, must be cautious in international negotiations while being aggressive at home.


So, what should developing countries do?


They must lay out a lay out a new vision because in-action is no longer an option. The United States, as the largest emitter, ensured it had no measurable commitments in the Climate Treaty in 1992, did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the European Union reneged on its commitment in the Kyoto Protocol for a second commitment period and since the Copenhagen Conference, in 2009, these countries have insisted that developing countries, irrespective of their level of development, also take on similar commitments, leading to a stalemate.


The most recent science on climate change supports a shift to a sustainable development perspective. The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in 2014, for the first time includes a chapter on ‘Ethics and Justice’ and the ‘World Social Science Report; 2013’, produced by the United Nations (UNESCO), concludes that we must “reframe climate and global environmental change from a physical into a social problem”.New rules for sharing technology to make the pie bigger and not just by placing restrictions on emissions of carbon dioxide from the use of energy, which will allow some to take a larger slice.


The developing countries should present an alternative framework for updating the climate agreement in terms of three elements – focus on energy use and the global carbon budget with an absolute cap on the emissions of carbon dioxide in individual industrialized countries at 1990 levels;new mechanisms for sharing renewable energy and agriculture technologiesas well as financial resources to enable all countries to modify their production and consumption patterns; and recognition of levels of development in the national actions of all countries so that they contribute their fair share to the global effort in accordance with global trends in use of energy.  This framework will be fully in accordance with the Objective of the Climate Convention and replace the Kyoto framework as it has not found universal acceptance.


[1] Ex civil servant and Director UNFCCC