Seeing light at the end of the tunnel

Fitrian Ardiansyah   |  Tue, 12/15/2009 10:34 AM  |  Environment

Tens of thousands protesters who took to the streets last Saturday and roughly 20,000 delegates inside the Climate Conference building have warmed the temperature a notch in Denmark’s chilly capital, demanding and negotiating a global climate agreement.

Prior to observing or getting involved in the roller-coaster negotiations, delegates need to be reminded of the aim of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The UNFCCC, ratified by 192 countries, is designed to keep levels of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous climate change.

One of the key elements of the UNFCCC is the idea that its 192 parties should combat climate change “on the basis of equality and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”.

This means that all parties involved have a responsibility, but developed nations must carry the burden, as they have greater capabilities and historical responsibilities.

This is why the treaty later on set provisions known as the Kyoto Protocol that resulted in mandatory emission limits for developed countries.

The protocol was the first international agreement setting binding targets for industrialized countries to reduce GHG emissions by at least 5 percent compared to 1990 levels. This is carried out in the first commitment period of the protocol starting from 2008 and ending in 2012.

The United States, however, never ratified the Kyoto Protocol. It is felt that without the involvement of the US, any international agreement is limited in its ability to tackle climate change.

At the Bali Conference of Parties (COP-13), the UNFCCC concluded with the adoption of the Bali Action Plan (BAP) – a number of forward-looking decisions or various tracks to be completed by 2009, which are essential to reaching a secure climate future after 2012.

Under the dual-track negotiation mechanism, two working groups are conducting the UN-led climate change talks, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Actions under the Convention (AWG-LCA).

AWG-KP’s objective is to forge an agreement on future commitments for industrialized countries (or also known as Annex I Parties) under the Kyoto Protocol.

AWG-LCA’s aim is to enable the full, effective and sustained implementation of the convention through long-term cooperative action, now, up to and beyond 2012, so that an agreed outcome can be reached at its fifteenth session and a decision taken.

For about two years, parties involved in the UNFCCC have been debating and exchanging arguments through these two tracks or working groups.

In Copenhagen, parties to the convention proposed many texts under these two tracks while aiming to reach an agreement through a dynamic process.

While the Danish, AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States), BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) each distributed their draft texts of the agreement earlier last week, the chairmen of AWG-LCA and AWG-KP finally circulated their drafts on Saturday.

Some countries and NGOs reacted with a quick statement and welcomed the texts as a good basis for further negotiations, even though significant gaps still need filling.

In general, it appears that the dual-track approach to reaching a global climate treaty is still alive and a possible outcome of this process. Small island states that insist on having two protocols as an outcome of COP-15 may be relieved the chair’s text for the Kyoto Protocol breathes new life into the second commitment period of Kyoto.

In an ideal dual-track scenario, the combination of the two working groups’ texts would form the basis for the Copenhagen Protocol — a continuation of Kyoto and an opening for discussions on a possible second treaty, capturing those issues ill-addressed in Kyoto: US participation, actions of developing countries, reducing emissions from deforestation, technology and other issues.

These draft agreements circulated last week have caused a few disagreements. The European Union, Japan, Australia and the US have criticized these draft texts because they state major developing nations can only reduce their GHG emissions if they receive financial support.

Rich nations want emerging economies to limit emissions with or without financial help.

There is further work to be done as important elements for an effective treaty are still missing.

The Kyoto Protocol text, for instance, has yet to specify the level of emission reductions, and ministers will have to fill in the numbers.

The LCA text includes numbers for both mid- and long-term emission reductions, but ministers will have to choose from various available options — both weak and strong — currently stuck inside square brackets, so to speak.

Global warming needs to be limited to below 2 degrees Celsius. To achieve this, global average emission reductions need to be in the above end of 25-40 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2020, and around 80 percent by 2050.

Developed country pledges on the table, which amount to an aggregate of about 10 to 17 percent of emission reductions by 2020, are certainly insufficient. Developed countries need to aim for more emission-reduction commitments.

Developing countries need to agree to register all of their domestic mitigation actions with the UNFCCC in accordance with the Convention. Only actions receiving (financial, technological and capacity building) support should be subject to measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) at the international level.

Other important gaps in the draft texts include long-term financing, technology, adaptation and clear safeguarding, as well as a push for action to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Short-term financing is required to build the institutions and capacities needed for long-term financing.

Long-term finance commitments, just like targets, need to be included in an annex to ensure transparency and predictability.

Roughly US$160 billion per year of financing is needed in the next commitment period, from multiple and innovative sources — including bunker fuels and AAU/Assigned Amount Units auctioning. Governance issues need to be resolved.

This does not preclude the use of market instruments or carbon sinks as such, but any agreement must result in real GHG emission cuts.

For about two years, parties involved in the UNFCCC, many observers and the public have been asking for solid texts that would allow for real negotiations and result in a legally binding outcome.
The time to produce these solid texts is nearing.

The current momentum is critical, putting ministers and heads of states coming to Copenhagen this week on a path to serious progress in tackling dangerous climate change.

The presence of 100 leaders, including President Yudhoyono, will hopefully take us further to see light at the end of the tunnel. The light is hopefully a new global climate agreement.

The writer is program director of climate & energy at WWF-Indonesia, and adjunct lecturer at Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy. He can be reached at

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