The End of Kyoto?

December 2 marked the end of the first week of the two week-long climate summit in Durban, South Africa. The talks remained largely divided between developed and developing countries, with the addition of dissension between the European Union (EU) and other developed countries. The Kyoto Protocol, the current agreement mandating emissions reductions by its member countries, ends in 2012 and with no replacement in sight.

Brazil, South Africa, India and China—collectively known as the BASIC countries— have been calling for a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, asserting that it is critical for developed countries to continue to reduce emissions for which they are largely responsible and which disproportionately affect the developing world. The EU is also pushing for a second period of the Kyoto Protocol, but with the inclusion of the largest emitters from the developing world, including China and India.

Canada, Russia and Japan have indicated that they will not sign on for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, with Canada possibly even pulling out of the current Kyoto Protocol early.

"It's very important that other major economies join the effort. It would not make sense for only the EU to take on a second commitment under the Kyoto protocol," said Joanna Mackowiak-Pandera , Poland's under-secretary of state for the environment. "Different countries have different opinions, but in my view they should ratify a new agreement in a legally binding international form," she said. "It should have international legally binding status, not just national plans, as national laws can be changed easily. Our view is that taking an international agreement will be much stronger and changes could be agreed only with other parties."

Envoys from Canada and the United States expressed similar views to Poland. Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent stated that "there's a fairly widely held perception in the developing world of the need for guilt payment," and that "Kyoto is ineffective and unfair because the major emerging economies -- which still like to consider themselves, when convenient, developing economies -- are obviously the largest emitters."

According to Jonathan Pershing , American deputy special envoy for climate change, "the major emerging economies represent a much larger and growing share of global emissions than a decade ago. We can't be in the same discussions as a decade ago around their engagement.” Todd Stern, the chief climate negotiator for the United States added , "We are not prepared to go forward on the basis of the old-style agreement, which essentially had a firewall between all developed countries and all developing countries." However, the BASIC countries have lead the charge on opposing the inclusion of developing countries in a legally-binding emissions reduction agreement, stating that they have done more already than developed countries in combating climate change.

Prior to the start of the summit, many of the wealthier countries said privately that delaying another agreement until 2016 was a likely possibility, and that such a treaty would not be enacted until 2020. The EU has proposed a roadmap leading toward a global climate agreement by 2015, which has been rejected by both the United States and BASIC countries. However, China indicated on Friday that it has not ruled out a legally binding agreement. "We do not rule out the possibility of legally binding. It is possible for us, but it depends on the negotiations," said Su Wei, China's lead negotiator, in English. "Since the EU is the only group of parties that is ready to consider a second commitment period we are ready and willing to engage constructively with the EU."

Green Climate Fund

The Green Climate Fund (GCF), first proposed in Copenhagen in 2009 and solidified in Cancun in 2010, calls for developed countries to provide $30 billion in fast-start funding to developing countries between 2010 and 2012, leading up to $100 billion annually by 2020. However, even though $29.2 billion has already been pledged or provided, this seemingly agreed-upon aspect of the summit has found itself at the center of discord for climate negotiators.

The contentious debate has focused on the role of the private sector in climate financing for the mitigation and adaptation mechanisms funded by the GCF. All of the countries involved in designing the fund have signed off on its current plan for implementation, but Saudi Arabia and the United States have objected.

Saudi Arabia wants to be compensated for the economic losses they will incur as a result of climate change mitigation while the United States wants the private sector to play a stronger role in the GCF. "In our view, one of the really big new developments in climate financing is going to be private sector investment, and you want a fund like this to leverage investment as effectively as possible," Pershing said . "At the moment, it doesn't do it as well as it could. We think some shifts in the language could open up a door for that really large-scale financing that we'd like."

However, others are concerned that too much private sector involvement could cause problems if they are not held accountable. Dozens of civil society organizations from multiple countries, including many from the United States, submitted a letter on December 1st, to the Transitional Committee, declaring their opposition to the inclusion of a private sector facility in the GCF. The letter asserted that GCF resources must be distributed to national and sub-national governments and not go directly to the private sector, which would instead create a “Greedy Corporate Fund.”

The potential inability to achieve a successful post-Kyoto emissions reduction plan is particularly disheartening in light of the most recent World Energy Outlook by the International Energy Agency. The report, released on November 9, stated that we have until 2017 before we are “locked in” to a 2-degree Celsius increase in global average temperature. “The door is closing," said Fatih Birol , chief economist at the International Energy Agency. "I am very worried – if we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever."

The Durban climate talks continue to December 9.