World governments are gathering for pivotal talks on climate change in Bali, Indonesia, from 3 to 14 December. With divisions among the countries taking part still running deep, the outcome will fall short of European aspirations. Nick Rowcliffe asks how far
The overriding challenge facing world governments in Bali is clear: to launch negotiations leading to a global framework of rules taking over from the Kyoto protocol that expires in 2012.
Just as it did in the run-up to Kyoto, the EU is again advancing one of the most ambitious agendas for these negotiations.
It is inevitable that the outcome will fall significantly short of Europe’s demands. On the other hand, the odds of complete stalemate now look very short.
This year’s meeting of signatories to the UN climate change convention is the most crucial since the Kyoto protocol was agreed in 1997. Thousands of ministers, government officials, lobbyists, academics and journalists were preparing to descend on Bali as this edition of ENDS Europe Report went to press.
Their main goal is to agree a roadmap for a climate deal to take over from Kyoto. There is immense pressure for this deal to be fully agreed by the end of 2009, giving time for entry into force by 2012. The obstacles to an agreement have diminished with every passing month over the last year.
Published in November 2006, the UK government’s Stern report changed many minds with its conclusion that tackling climate change would be cheaper than living with it.
This July, heads of the G8 group of industrialised countries and leaders of major developing countries achieved a breakthrough by agreeing that a new UN framework deal on climate change should be completed by 2009.
Over the autumn political and business leaders have reinforced calls for an agreement at a flurry of regional and global meetings. After a change of government on 24 November, Australia – which until now boycotted Kyoto along with the US – said it would ratify the protocol.
The EU has been preparing its position for the talks for most of 2007 and goes to Bali with an eight-point plan. It is central to the plan that industrialised countries agree deeper absolute emission reduction commitments, while developing countries should make “further fair and effective contributions” including “new and flexible commitments” to reduce their economies’ carbon intensity.
More specifically, the EU believes that to stop a temperature rise of more than two degrees, global emissions must be halved by 2050. Based on the latest advice from the Intergovernmental panel on climate change, this target will mean cuts of 60-80 per cent by industrialised countries.
In order to get on this track, the EU says that rich countries must agree to reduce their emissions by 30 per cent by 2020 compared with 1990.
Europe is also calling for an extension of carbon markets, more technology development and transfer, greater efforts to address adaptation, and measures to control emissions from international aviation, maritime transport and deforestation.
As long as specifics are avoided, many of these principles are widely supported by both developed and developing countries. A UN dialogue launched in 2005 identified mitigation (emission reductions), adaptation, technology and a financial architecture as the four building blocks of a future climate change agreement. Each echoes the EU’s position.
When it comes to details, however, Europe is asking for more than it will get. The reality is that deep division remains between industrialised and developing countries, and within each group. Though it has shifted significantly towards the UN process in recent months, it would be a shock if the US government accepted mandatory emission limits at Bali. Without a sea change in the US approach, developing nations will continue to resist calls to restrain their emissions.
In November, for example, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh said that India would consider capping its emissions at similar per capita levels to rich countries – which means no cap for the foreseeable future (see figure).
If the summit cannot agree on ends it will have to focus more on means, and here the major issue will be how far developed countries are prepared to provide incentives for developing countries.
China placed this issue centre stage in the run-up to Bali. At a 22 November press conference officials described greater transfer of emission-reducing technologies to developing countries as among its “fundamental” demands.
Burgeoning carbon markets will be a major mechanism for such transfers. Agreement is likely on proposals to strengthen and expand the Kyoto clean development mechanism (CDM), which funds carbon reductions in developing countries.
The EU’s demands for effective action to curb international aviation and shipping emissions as well as forestry emissions are more problematic. Both face substantial opposition, especially from developing countries.
Bali should advance the world towards a new long-term climate change framework. How far remains to be seen. The only certainty for now is the ride will be bumpy in the extreme.
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