Durban: Expectations of a successful outcome here in Durban are, as even the most optimistic would agree, modest. It’s a technique that I find works well enough when applied to my own parties, let alone the rather grander Conference Of Parties, and means that the smallest flirtations between guests will generate wild excitement.
China, for example, is growing daily friendlier with Europe, Brazil and South Africa, our very accommodating host. India is not really in the party mood and standing by the snacks complaining of hunger but refusing to eat, while the USA is sulking outside with a filthy cigar, leaving his beleaguered date, Todd Stern, to explain his behaviour.
At the moment, it looks likely that the Kyoto Protocol will be extended (woohoo!) but with big caveats (boo!).
Currently, states are split into two Annexes in the protocol, according to how rich they were 20 years ago when the protocol was ratified: the rich ‘developed’ countries are in Annex A, and the poor ‘developing’ countries are in Annex B. Annex A countries was required to cap its emissions over the past decades, but Annex B was not. This is partly because developed countries were the big emitters of greenhouse gases, and partly because it was appreciated that in order to develop their economies the poor countries would need to produce increasing amounts of carbon dioxide. In 2011, though, some countries that in the 1990s were considered ‘developing’, such as China, have now become such significant emitters that their per capita greenhouse gas emissions exceed that for some EU countries, let alone their total emissions. The Guardian has a cool interactive here.
The new proposal currently being negotiated, I understand, is for the introduction of an Annex C, in which would be subject to an emissions cap but at a different volume or rate as those in Annex A. Annex B emerging economies, such as China, Brazil, Mexico and others could become Annex C, distinguishing themselves from, say, Rwanda and Guatemala in Annex B.
It’s ideal on several levels: it wouldn’t require a whole new treaty to be ratified because it’s just an adjustment of the existing protocol; the USA can’t disrupt it because they aren’t a part of the Kyoto Protocol; and it allows the protocol to continue past 2012, rescuing this whole sorry international process.
Before we crack open the champagne, there are a few niggles to be ironed out – the negotiations have another couple of days to go and delegates would feel cheated if they had to spend them relaxing on the beach rather than sweating it out in a beige conference room. The first problem is India, which refuses to consider any caps on its right to emit – I’ve written about this before, and it does seem crazy that starting as it is from a base level of infrastructure, it doesn’t choose clean energy (like Maldives, for example) over coal, thereby setting itself up for the same tricky grid/energy switch that Europe’s facing now. (It’s like going from no telecomms to installing payphones, rather than directly to cellphones.)
The other issue is the timing of all this and the level of the caps. Europe wants the process to begin in 2015; China is talking 2020. And over what time period will the reductions run? All problematic. But, as the surprisingly trim John Prescott told us yesterday – bearing in mind that the protocol is in many ways his project – it was only in the last 3 hours of negotiations in 1997 that agreement was reached on the Kyoto Protocol. So, it may be a late night for delegates on Friday.
Meanwhile, Japan and Canada are exiting the protocol altogether – a process that simply requires them to send a letter with one month’s notice. For shame.
If the Kyoto Protocol fails to be extended or replaced, the ramifications are serious. For starters, the EU, which leads on climate sensible policy, will never get its 30% greenhouse gas reductions policy agreed, and it’s likely that the current north south global split will prevail in Europe for climate mitigation, as it already does economically. And if rich blocs like the EU can’t act, then what hope for the rest of the world? Impressive moves from Mexico to Brazil will surely falter. Even in China, where domestic policy – led by a top-down respect for science, because the leaders often have a science background – has committed the country to producing 15% of its electricity from non-fossil fuels by 2020, it still opens 1.4 new coal power stations every week (down from 2 a week).
China, though, is not the place that most worries me: it has big plans to be more energy efficient than Japan, to be the leading wind-energy producer, it’s developing smart grids, expanding micro-hydro, and the progress it’s made in cheap PV manufacture have been to the benefit of other developing nations the world over. If China wants to go green, I have no doubt it will – and hopefully before its wildlife and people expire from the pollution there.
Other countries, though, need these international negotiations to succeed, because in this corporate market based society, where a few rich groups set the agenda in so many ways, only strong regulation and binding commitments will produce change.