8 December 2011

Africa: Kyoto On a Slippery Slide

The UN climate talks yesterday struggled to overcome fissures on the future of the Kyoto Protocol which is teetering on the brink of collapse with less than a day to secure a deal.

Canada unequivocally declared Kyoto was now "in the past", as it believed the Cancun agreements provide a sound conceptual and practical framework to advance "our collective engagement" to address climate change. It confirmed it would not renew pledges after the landmark pact's first roster of carbon curbs expires in 2012.

Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent said: "We have long said we will not take on a second commitment under the Kyoto Protocol. We will not obstruct or discourage those that do, but Kyoto for Canada is in the past."

Kent's rejection of a treaty viewed as iconic by least developed countries hit a nerve of the distressed negotiations, which have until Friday to avoid the second split up in just less than two years.

Canada's position came as one of the world's biggest polluters - China - expressed the hope and determination to make all required efforts to achieve an outcome that is comprehensive and balanced, enabling the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention through long-term cooperative action now.

Chinese chief negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, said such an outcome on the basis of equity and taking into account the principle of common, but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, demands a decision on establishing the commitments of the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol here in Durban.

COP 17 is taking place under the 194-nation UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which has struggled for decades to roll back what scientists believe is a dire threat for mankind.

Other rich countries such as Japan, Australia and Russia, have also taken a stand against the second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol, an instrument that Africa is pinning its hopes on.

These countries believe a second commitment period is senseless so long as emerging giants - China, India and the United States, which has refused to ratify Kyoto, are not bound by the treaty's constraints.

"For Canada, the Kyoto Protocol is not where the solution lies," Kent said.

"It is an agreement that covers fewer than 30% of global emissions, by some estimates 15% or less. It's an approach that does not lead to a more comprehensive engagement of key parties who need to be actively a part of a global agreement."

So far, however, only the European Union among industrialised countries and which accounts for barely 11% of global CO2 emissions, has shown any enthusiasm for renewing the Kyoto Protocol.

And even then there is a condition: all the world's major emitters -- including the US and China -- must agree in principle to conclude a binding climate pact by 2015 and implement it by 2020. But, none of the big polluters has supported Europe's "roadmap" idea.

The US, for its part, is calling for countries to implement a looser, voluntary approach that was born in the stormy final hours of the 2009 Copenhagen Summit.

For developing countries, Kyoto is a touchstone of cooperation between rich and poor, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday pleaded with the negotiations to keep the treaty alive. "While Kyoto alone will not solve today's climate problems, it is a foundation to build on with important institutions. It provides the framework that markets sorely need... It is important that we do not create a vacuum," said Ban.

Developing countries have described a second commitment period as "a must," a position loudly supported by the least developed countries and vulnerable small-island nations. The African Group continued to rally other least developed nations, out of which a decision was made to continue pushing for the second commitment of Kyoto Protocol to effectively tackle carbon emissions in the medium and longer-term.

There is also optimism that the conference would give the green light to a levy on carbon emissions from shipping, which until now has been excluded from international curbs.

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