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Durban: Setting The Stage For Climate Chaos

2011/12/09

Today’s guest blogger is friend of 350orbust Graham Saunders, who gives us his perspective on the U.N. climate negotiations in Durban: 

The Kyoto Agreement to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases became toast at the recent world meetings in Durban, South Africa. Yes, there are some damage control with statements that “we” have to take it to another level . . . which will set the stage for a comprehensive agreement by 2015, etc.

The Harper government has played a major role in the damage and set new records in bargaining in bad faith at the international level.

Let’s back up to the original Kyoto Protocol signed in Japan in 1997. “The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind . . . the developed Parties (countries) should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects”.

Canada, the US, the European Union (EU), Japan and other developed industrial countries (termed Annex 1) acknowledged responsibility for about 76 percent of total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions accumulated in the atmosphere during the 20th Century. The effect of CO2 on surface temperatures and duration in the atmosphere of about one century made the arithmetic of responsibility straightforward. These 37 countries agreed to collectively reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 5.2 percent of 1990 levels by 2012. Countries agreed to different reductions; the US and Canada at -6 percent and the 25-country EU at -8 percent.

It was an example of good faith bargaining with Annex 1 acknowledging historical GHG impact and excused other countries from emission reduction in the first round. All attending countries (192) signed.

In theory, the next round of negotiations that could include countries not in Annex 1was scheduled to begin in 2005 for their inclusion beginning in 2012. In practice, a ratification process to bring the treaty into effect dragged on. The first stumble was refusal of the US to ratify, followed by withdrawal by the Bush Administration in 2001. The US was responsible for 36 percent of 20th Century CO2, i.e. nearly half of the Annex 1 total. Canada ratified the Treaty in 2002 but it did not become legally binding until Russia ratified in 2005.To date, 191 countries have ratified the Treaty. The exception was the US, which rarely ratifies international agreements.

The Harper government opts out

It was officially announced on August 1, 2011that Canada would not abide by the Kyoto Protocol. It is a legal agreement, but if the process is scuttled sanctions and penalties likely cannot be applied.

Canada has been accused of attempting to “gut” Kyoto by Bernarditas Muller, chief negotiator for the G77, a group of developing nations.

Ms Mohau Pheko, the South African High Commissioner to Canada, asked in unusually pointed diplomatic language prior to the talks, “Are you also going to become a serial non-ratifier [like the US] of any agreements?” She also accused Canada of pressuring some countries in the G77 with promises of foreign aid contingent on withdrawing support for Kyoto. One wonders where and how such tied aid or bribes appear in the federal budget!

Canada’s historical contribution to carbon in the atmosphere last century is much less than the US. Nevertheless, Canada’s 3 percent matches the continent of Africa or India during the 20th Century. It is a dismal negotiating position for the US and Canada because this historical carbon (and resulting prosperity) is almost certainly connected with increasing severe weather and some recent large-scale disasters.

Another reality for the Harper government is Tar Sands production. This presently contributes 6.5 percent of Canadian GHGs, is expected to double within this decade and would equal or exceed all gasoline road transportation in Canada.

The European Union now consists of 27 countries will easily meet its commitment of -8 percent. Emissions in 2010 were -15.5 percent when compared  to 1990.

The major blockage for reaching agreement in Durban and the future remains. The chief U.S. negotiator, Todd Stern, stated in Durban that any legal treaty must be binding equally on everyone, including China. The Bush Administration demanded the same one decade ago. The Harper government parrots the same lines.

The European Union tried for compromise during the talks: Kyoto participants would accept a second round of targets and China and other major emerging countries would negotiate binding commitments for 2020. And China – now the world’s largest emitter – agreed, if developed countries renewed their pledges under Kyoto.

American and Canadian negotiators dismissed these overtures. Peter Kent, Canada’s Environment Minister, reinforced yet another impasse with a surreal announcement late in the proceedings that “Time is really running short in terms of the 2 degrees”.

Much of the scientific community has identified this as a threshold that cannot be exceeded. It became a taunt when coupled with coupled with “business as usual” in Canada.

One might suppose that the number of weather-related disasters in the last two years would have reinforced the need to reduce GHG emissions. Drought and flooding in the US, China, Canada and other disaster combinations are previews of what almost certainly is a rising frequency of extremes. The Environment Minister of Bangladesh, Dr Hasan Mahmud, noted that all countries are on the same sinking ship. “[You] may be travelling first class and we are in third class but we’re all going down together.”

Yes, the talks and positioning have another day but babble about climate funds, mechanisms and so on does not reduce GHGs.

More links:

Solving The Big Environmental Calamities Requires Measuring, Monitoring, Research

Gardening In A Short Growing Season by Graham Saunders

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