North-South Divides on Mitigation, Adaptation, and Process
By: Shannon Gibson
University of Miami
It has been a year since the COP15 UNFCCC climate talks ended amid mass controversy over North-South stalemates, secret texts negotiated behind closed doors, and the failure of a last minute push by President Barack Obama and a select group of UNFCCC member states to enact the Copenhagen Accord.
Due to disagreements on differentiated responsibilities between developed and developing countries, enforcement mechanisms, and oversight (not to mention the non-democratic process by which the Accord was developed), COP15 ended with the Accord merely being ‘taken note of’ due to lack of consensus (the current rule of decision-making in the UNFCCC) among member parties.
Thus the majority of the UNFCCC’s 2010 work has been primarily procedural, as it was unsure of how to deal with this ‘non-agreement’ as well as other submissions from developing countries and civil society. Despite the Accord not being adopted as an UNFCCC decision, the Executive Secretary allowed member parties to submit their intent to ‘associate with’ the Accord along with their national mitigation plans in early 2009. According to Climate Action Network’s Copenhagen Accord climate tracker, 138 countries have since associated themselves with the Accord, accounting for nearly 90% of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, Nature reports that current mitigation commitments under the Accord are simply too weak and insufficient to prevent global warming of 3 °C or more over pre-industrial levels.
Recognizing the failures, both in process and in content, of the Copenhagen Accord, Bolivia convened the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in mid-2010 to provide a space for civil society, Indigenous Peoples and grassroots movements, to discuss their visions for alternative climate change solutions. The conference culminated in the creation of the People’s Agreement, which provides alternative proposals such as increased mitigation targets, recognition of the rights of Mother Earth and Indigenous rights, and the reduction/destruction of market-based mitigation mechanisms, to the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Elements of the Agreement were officially submitted to the UNFCCC by Bolivia for consideration as negotiating text earlier this year.
This leads us to today, where the UNFCCC is left scrambling with how to merge elements of these two texts, the Copenhagen Accord and the People’s Agreement, into the existing two-track negotiation process established by the Bali Action Plan. Taking one look at the current state of the draft negotiating text of the AWG-LCA (Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Coordinated Action; i.e., the negotiation group that includes the United States, a non-signatory to the Kyoto Protocol), one can see that nearly 50% of this dense text is bracketed. Bracketed text in negotiation documents indicates proposals or text which has not been agreed upon. The majority of these brackets are the result of divisions between developed and developing countries over three main issues: mitigation, adaptation and what form a future agreement should take.
Countries are largely divided on who should commit to mitigation targets, by how much, on which baseline and by what deadline. In general, developed countries have submitted mitigation proposals ranging from 17% (the United States) to 50% (the European Union) with a preference for a later deadline (i.e., 2050). This is in stark contrast to calls for 70-100% reduction commitments from developing countries, such as those a party to AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States).
Additionally, following the lead established by the Copenhagen Accord, many developed countries are calling for a commitments by ‘all large economies’, thus seeking to include countries such as China, Brazil and India, who were not previously bound under the Kyoto Protocol as developing or ‘Non Annex 1’ countries. Almost all developing countries are resistant to this call citing the long held notion of ‘common, but differentiated responsibilities’ enshrined in the Convention treaty.
Another major debate with regard to mitigation is the use of market-based mechanisms, such as the Clean Development Mechanism, which provide economic incentives for mitigation by allowing developed countries to invest in carbon emission reduction projects in developing countries in exchange for carbon credits. The People’s Agreement, in particular, is extremely outspoken it is rejection of these market mechanisms and their expansion into new areas such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and forest conservation (i.e., under REDD).
First there is a debate whether adaptation should even be considered at this point as many argue that a focus on adaptation is an admission of defeat in terms of mitigation efforts. Beyond that however, the major stumbling blocks with adaptation are finance and the types of adaptation projects to be considered. First with regard to finance, there simply isn’t enough. The Adaptation Fund has consistently requested additional funds from member countries and has consistently failed to receive them. Additionally, the percentage of shares of CDM carbon credits in the Fund has fallen due to the 2008 economic decline’s impact on carbon pricing.
In terms of future adaptation funding, the Copenhagen Accord states that developed countries will provide $10B in fast-track money and work to mobilize $100B annually for the climate change mitigation and adaptation assistance to developing countries. While this may seem generous, many developing countries are concerned with the structure of this funding. First, as outlined by President Obama this funding is contingent on countries associating with the Accord and opening themselves up to financial oversight by an external body. Countries such as Bolivia saw this introduction of “conditional funding” as an attempt at bribery and have thus rejected the Accord. Other countries, such as China, have indicated that they will not likely open their states to carte blanche oversight – for financial expenditures or mitigation commitments. Finally, countries are divided on who they wish to oversee this new financial mechanism, with developed countries looking to the World Bank and developing countries (many of whom have bad past experiences with Bank) preferring the fund to stay under control of the Convention.
Also of concern are those proposals which look to the geo-engineering of trees, plants and seeds as adaptation measures, a topic which is also heavily debated in the Convention on Biological Diversity. Where many developed countries are anxious to instigate, or in some cases ramp up, research and development investment in these technologies, many developing countries and other impacted communities are hesitant to accept these adaptation experiments, particularly due a lack of scientific studies on the potential negative effects of GE trees and seeds on ecosystems and humans.
Process and Form of Future Agreement
While policy issues and negotiating differences relating to mitigation and adaptation are obviously important, they may be all for naught if countries cannot work them into a coherent text that can achieve consensus under the current UNFCCC negotiation rules. This is the preferred path of developing countries as well as some developed, such as the European Union. These groups, despite the failings in Copenhagen, still argue that parties to the Kyoto Protocol should strive to design a second commitment period for the Protocol, which expires in 2012. This agreement should be legally binding and enforceable.
On the other end of the spectrum, many developed countries, the United States, Canada and Australia in particular, continue to push the Copenhagen Accord or some variation of a ‘voluntary accord’ (i.e., no binding mitigation targets or enforcement mechanisms), as opposed to a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol. Indeed, just this week Japan announced that it will not seek to extend its mitigation targets under the second commitment period. Furthermore, it has been reported that some states are looking to more selective political forums, such as the G20 and G8, as new venues to consolidate climate negotiations and decision-making. These countries argue that the consensus-based nature of the UNFCCC is simply to difficult to pass decisions in and that efficiency may have to trump democracy at this critical stage.
At this point, the UNFCCC is still the only game in town when it comes to climate negotiations; however North-South divisions are making it difficult for negotiators to begin moving text out of brackets and to begin taking decisions. How the UNFCCC manages these divisions, be it openly or behind closed doors as was the case in Copenhagen, will surely be telling for the prospects of a future agreement and the Convention itself as a negotiation forum.
Shannon Gibson is working with Global Justice Ecology Project during COP16/CMP6 to provide daily negotiation updates and policy analysis. She is a Ph.D. candidate in International Studies at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, where she researches issues pertaining to global environmental politics and global civil society.