LONDON (AlertNet) – The upcoming UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa, need to agree new binding targets for emissions reductions, climate experts say. But what may emerge instead is a “no progress” scenario as countries battle over whether to extend the Kyoto Protocol, the current binding emissions-reduction treaty that is approaching an expiration deadline.
Last year at the UN climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, countries agreed on what the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) called “the most comprehensive and far-reaching” response to reducing carbon emissions and holding member parties accountable to their commitments.
Among other things, countries agreed under the so-called Cancun Agreements to establish clear and detailed rules in Durban for the Green Climate Fund, set up to provide funding to help poorer nations adapt to climate change and curb their own emissions, and for REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), a plan to financially reward tropical forest nations for preserving their carbon-capturing forests.
SECOND PERIOD FOR KYOTO?
The talks in Durban will be critical for the implementation of the Cancun Agreements and for the survival of the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period ends in 2012, making Durban the last chance for countries to extend the commitment period before the first one ends.
Jacob Werksman, director of institutions and governance at the World Resource Institute, said the European Union is on track to meet its Kyoto goals, but a range of countries, such as Canada, “need pressure to do more,” making it crucial that there is a second commitment period.
At best, if there is an atmosphere of cooperation and agreement in Durban – something many observers consider highly unlikely - parties could agree on a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, agree that all decisions and mandates should be legally binding for all member parties, and detail the rules for the Green Climate Fund and for REDD+, as laid out in the Cancun Agreements, said WRI climate expert Jennifer Morgan.
The problem is that many countries are unlikely to agree to any legally binding commitments if there is no agreement on a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Such an extension is opposed by a range of key countries, including Japan, Canada and Russia.
Another possibility is what Morgan and climate expert Edward Cameron, also from WRI, described as the “no progress” scenario. Under that, some of the most climate-vulnerable countries may block progress on other issues if a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol is not agreed.
Agreeing legally binding commitments to curb climate-changing emissions is crucial, the experts said in a telephone conference Tuesday. The United States has been historically unable to approve such commitments but with emissions continuing to rise worldwide, “they need to get into the game,” Morgan said.
What action the United States takes will have a major influence on what action other countries take, she said.
Despite the “what ifs” and the possibility of little being accomplished in Durban, Morgan said she prefers to focus “more on the opportunity (of Durban).” But if little is accomplished on any of the key issues – agreeing new binding emissions reductions, extending the Kyoto Protocol or putting the Green Climate Fund and REDD+ into operation, “that would be a problem,” she said.
Still, Cameron believes that “we have a real chance to build a solid foundation in Durban” to tackle climate problems.
“If we get Durban right, then I think we really have a chance to send a signal to government leaders, policy makers, scientists, NGOs, and other organizations around the world,” Cameron said.
Katie Murray is an AlertNet Climate intern.