Kyoto Protocol has remained but the objective for which it was designed has failed

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Sustainability Outlook spoke to Sanjay Vashist, Director of Climate Action Network South Asia about the recently concluded Doha Conference on Climate Change and his take on the likely direction of Climate Change dialogue post COP18.

What was your take-away from COP18? 

COP18 was a huge compromise. The outcome of the conference was not what was expected or desired. I would not consider it to be a big success except that we have been able to carry forward the Kyoto Protocol legacy. That being said, the Kyoto Protocol was designed to stabilize global temperature rise to below 2 degree Celsius. Given the result of COP18 and the negotiations which resulted from it, the world is going to be headed towards a 3-4 degree Celsius global average temperature rise. In that sense Kyoto Protocol has remained but the objective for which it was designed has not.  

As regards the parties of  Kyoto Protocol and implementation of second commitment period, Canada is not going to sign up for Kyoto 2. Japan is extremely reluctant to join; Australia is on board with very weak emission reduction targets. Russia, Ukraine, Belarus will not join Kyoto 2. That leaves less than half of the original Kyoto Protocol parties who were required to reduce emissions on board. Keeping that in mind, only the name of the Kyoto protocol has remained, but not the purpose or its original members. US which never ratified Kyoto1 will not be joining in Kyoto2 either.

In such a scenario, do you think that multi-lateral agreement is no longer a viable approach and that bilateral agreements are perhaps the only way these conversations can be operationalized?

Bilateral agreements are happening already. However, one cannot and should not do away with multilateral arrangements because of the fact that, the voices / expectations of the small developing countries like LDCs and Africa Union are heard in such platform. . The  conversation now is not just about climate change mitigation strategies but is increasingly about adaptation, climate finance, about loss and damage, ecosystems which are beyond adaptation and which need to be recovered, rehabilitated and compensated. These are issues which are discussed and can be acted upon in the multilateral regime. But if we were to move only towards bilateral mechanisms then the poor and underdeveloped countries will not be left with any voice. 

Another reason why multilateral conversation is important and has made a significant difference is in its reach. There was a time when nobody accepted climate change as a real problem. But multilateral regime brought it to the forefront, people started talking about it, the momentum picked up and countries started investing heavily in low carbon growth through domestic policy frameworks.

What was the decision taken at Doha with regard to the future of the Green Climate Fund?

The Green Climate Fund is still on cards. It may not have $100 billion coming in, but the fund is definitely in place. Countries are already talking about putting in money for climate finance but the problem is that nobody is willing to earmark it out of their national budgets. They are looking for market mechanisms which will generate money and which can then be put into the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The other alternative would be to recycle development aid money and stream it into the Fund. There will very minimal new /additional money.

The European Union is going through severe economic recession and at this time of austerity it is not practical for EU to pledge any money for climate finance in the developing world while they are cutting down their own budgets and expenditures. None of the political parties can justify spending money on a global climate fund even as they are spending a huge amount of money to meet their 20% target reduction. 

US’s stand on not contributing to the Fund comes from the unease about having especially, China, on the receiving end of it. GCF so far says that all developing countries can get money through the fund, including India and China. The sentiment within the US public is that China should not be given any money since they are big trade competitors and are as good as a developed nation. Countries like Japan and EU are, on the other hand, on board.

The ways in which the GCF might be developed without any additional money but through other sources that could be an outcome from flexible mechanisms, for example, a new suggestion had been made to include an aviation emission tax under EU ETS. EU brought into its ambit the aviation sector where each national or international airline, was to have an emissions cap and in order to emit more than they are allowed, airlines would need to buy in allowances. The money generated from that could theoretically go into the GCF. The EU is open to it. It doesn’t say so explicitly as yet but with a little advocacy, they will be willing to pitch in. 

Second example, money generated under the Joint Implementation scheme and ETS will be streamed into the GCF. So keeping all this momentum in mind, the GCF will take shape but there won’t be 100 billion by 2020 from public money. Also, in Doha around $10.6 billion has been pledged by European countries for climate finance till 2015. Once the Fund gets stabilized, it is expected that money will also flow in from a lot of different channels.

If the money generated under the aviation emissions tax will go into the GCF, then why are India and China opposing the aviation tax tooth and nail?

So far the opposition is so that EU shouldn’t use the money collected over the aviation tax for its own good. The contention is that EU might utilize money collected under the scheme to get more efficient airlines to help curb EU’s own emissions. India and China’s demand is that EU put in the money for the GCF.

Another reason for the opposition is that bringing aviation tax under ETS is specifically EU’s idea and they cannot force other countries to bring in comparable measures. Due to the growing opposition, EU has suspended the scheme till September 2013 which gives India plenty of time to come on board and adopt similar measures and get EU an opportunity to reflect on utilizing that money in the GCF.  In my opinion, and a lot of NGOs in India accepts it as a good concept of  introducing a cap on the polluting aviation sector. 

Do you think the COP18 has had any impact on the depressed carbon markets?

Yes, it will have a positive effect on CDM. India brought the point forward that there are many companies which have invested heavily in making their projects CDM compatible. Generated CERs are now lying unutilized with companies. It is imperative that there be some kind of buy back guarantee so that those projects become viable. With Kyoto Protocol 2 positive moves have happened in the CDM market. 

The only problem is that there is no ambition with regard to emission reductions from developed countries. CDM, CERs go up when there are more emission reductions to be made in the developed world. However, if their targets are low, then ambitions can be achieved domestically, leaving CDM redundant. 

Do you think India managed to stand its ground on the concepts of equity and common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR)?

India did manage to stand its ground and got space to discuss equity and CBDR in Doha. In Durban these concepts were about to be dropped, but India asserted its stand and so the concepts remained in the text. There was a workshop in Bonn for it and now in the Doha Gateway a work program for equity was established. So this is basically what India has been able to achieve and there is reason to feel proud about it.

However, much work remains to be done. It is India’s achievement that it has been successful in retaining the concept of Equity. But India has to now champion the cause and lead the way forward. It is not enough to have the concepts in the text; it is equally critical to pave the way forward and operationalize these concepts. 

While US will try with all its might to drop equity from the negotiations completely, it is India’s prerogative to formulize what the principles should be, to provide constructive alternatives on the table and making sure that the world gets engaged in the concept in the post 2020 climate deal. 

One of the achievements of COP18 has been the Long Term Cooperative Track closing. Would you say that the LCA track closing was an achievement or is it insignificant in light of the fact that a lot of contentious issues under it like climate finance, technology, adaptation, loss and damage remain unresolved? 

Long Term Cooperation Track was created in Bali to ensure that the US gets on board for post 2020 negotiations. The US had by then made it very clear that joining Kyoto Protocol was a complete red line for them. Since it was understood that they are so unaccepting of the Kyoto Protocol term, the negotiations would be called the ‘Long Term Cooperative Action Track’. But in that US specifically wanted India and China to come on board too, which they did. The condition laid out by India and China was that there should be a legally binding emission reduction target for the US and other developed nations while developing nations would take up voluntary reduction projects supported by finance and technology. 

However, in Durban, US backed out again, following which so did India and China arguing that they would not be major emitters till 2020. So an ad hoc working group was created under the Durban Platform (ADP), to look at negotiations and reductions post 2020.

In Durban it was also agreed that by Doha, LCA will be concluded successfully, so that similar discussions could be carried on to ADP. From January onwards, all of these discussions under LCA will be referred under the ADP track. In a way then LCA has been given a new name for the next 8 years and climate finance, technology, equity, etc. will be under it. I would say that the LCA has closed, but all the topics under it have been transferred over to ADP and negotiations and talks under the ADP will continue. 

What are some of the other contentious issues under Kyoto Protocol 2?

Loss and Damage is a contentious issue because everybody has realized that a 2 degree Celsius world will not be possible and damages are bound to increase and will be irrevocable. In that case the talks steer over to rehabilitation. Developing countries, especially LDCs and African Union, are demanding loss and damage compensation as an international mechanism. EU and US are strongly opposed to it primarily because if they agree to this, they are essentially agreeing to historical responsibility. Plus, this might potentially give rise to a lot of litigation, enough to flood their courts. 

The conversation now is not just about climate change mitigation, but increasingly about how to lessen the frequency of disasters. Given the rising incidence of cyclones, storms, floods and other natural disasters, the question of loss and damage, of compensation and rehabilitation is going to be increasingly dominant in negotiations. 

Finally, what do you think has been achieved at the COP18 and would you say it was a success or a failure?

COP18 was a transition COP. It was not meant to be very decisive and it has achieved some things which it set out to do. However, we are still discussing what we were discussing 3 years back. We started with 32 members in 1992 and by 2012 we are left with a handful. On the plus side, there is still a legally binding agreement and compliance measures in place, which in itself is something to be happy about. 

This interview was conducted by Anindita Chakraborty, a member of the Sustainability Outlook team.


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IHA Central Office