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WILL DEVELOPED COUNTRIES FIND THEMSELVES IN A KYOTO-2 AFTER ALL?

June 18, 2011: Canada, the U.S. (who are not in the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol), Japan and Russia have all said they will not endorse a second phase of Kyoto because developing countries have no mandatory emission reduction targets. Instead, most developed nations call for an international, legally-binding mitigation agreement that includes all countries and support the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as the body to coordinate such an international treaty.

But what would such a deal look like? Would it really be fundamentally different to the first Kyoto Protocol?

The current foundation for UN climate negotiations is the Cancun Agreement, the most important part of which may be viewed here. Virtually all nations have agreed to this document, although it is not currently legally-binding.

However, the G8 announced in May 2011 that they supported the Cancun Agreement and called for it to be “operationalised” across the world. Developed country national governments have also stated that they support the process laid out in the Cancun Agreement and are working for legally-binding international mitigation treaties. U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern stated that the Cancun Agreement “is a very good step and a step that’s very much consistent with U.S. interests and will help move...the world down a path toward a broader global response to changing – to stopping climate change.”

Unknown to most people is the fact that developing nations were effectively given an opt-out clause in the Cancun Agreement that would allow them to agree to legally-binding emission cuts but then never actually have to carry them out. Developed nations do not have this option.

In particular, the following two phrases from the Agreement show that, even if developing nations did sign on, it is unlikely that they would actually be held to rigid targets:

  • At the beginning of the Cancun Agreement it is stated: “...Parties should cooperate in achieving the peaking of global and national greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries, and bearing in mind that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries…”
  • In the section entitled “Nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing country Parties”, the first clause starts: “Reaffirming that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing country Parties, and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs…”

 

In other words, if a Cancun-based treaty became international law, GHG reduction would proceed in developing nations only to the extent that it does not interfere with their “first and overriding priorities” of “social and economic development and poverty eradication.” Developed countries would be held to their emission reduction obligations regardless of the impact on their societies.

 

Since actions to significantly reduce GHG emissions will usually interfere with development priorities, developing countries will soon realize that an agreement based on Cancun will not limit their emissions. Such a treaty would then work in the same asymmetric fashion that the Kyoto Protocol has functioned. That Canada, Japan, the U.S. and Russia have said they will not participate in a second phase to the Kyoto Protocol may prove immaterial if any legally-binding treaty based on the Cancun Agreement ever comes into force.

Under the Cancun Agreement, UN monitoring is to be much more intrusive in developed countries than in developing countries.

 

For example, the world is expected to simply believe China when they assert that certain domestic GHG reductions have been accomplished - the UN cannot inspect. This has the strong potential to result in significant reporting fraud as has occurred in a number of other fields concerning China (see here and here for recent examples). International inspection and monitoring of developed countries’ emissions will be very strict, however. Here is a sample of what is to come if the UN get their way. It is hard to imagine the UN “rebuking” China “for poor reporting of progress to cut greenhouse gases” or “ordering” China to do anything, as they are doing this week for Australia (see ref.).

If a Cancun Agreement-based treaty becomes international law, we will have little idea of what emission cuts will actually be happening in countries such as China. Once again, there will be anything but a level playing field between developed and developing countries no matter what politicians say.

In the final analysis, the only really significant difference between a Cancun-based GHG reduction treaty and Kyoto may be that developing countries are expected to submit their intended emission cuts to the UN. But their obligations to carry those cuts into effect would appear to be essentially meaningless. The current approach is clearly designed to persuade the United States to participate in an agreement for binding international GHG emission limits. Then, the U.S. and everyone else would be effectively included in an extension to the Kyoto Protocol after all.