In the last few years, I have been a participant in United Nations climate-change talks, during which debate has centred on a number of points. They include: the causes of climate change; the effects of, and adaptation to, global warming; technology; measures to slow climate change; policy options, and international mechanisms.
In which direction will international climate-change mechanisms move after the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012? Will the agreement’s obligations simply be extended, with adjustments of emissions targets, or will they be replaced by a new deal? This is currently the most discussed and most difficult of issues -– and it is the heart of the climate-change debate.
Signatories to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty to which the Kyoto Protocol is an addition -- decided that negotiations should take place on developed countries’ obligations during the second stage of the Kyoto process, after 2012. But those developed countries all want to see developing nations included in the process. The European Union already has undertaken to cut greenhouse-gas emissions between now and 2020, but does not want to do so alone. It wants to see the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia and East European nations take similar steps, along with some degree of action from developing nations.
In 2002, the Eighth Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP8) to the UNFCCC issued the Delhi Ministerial Declaration on Climate Change and Sustainable Development, stressing that climate change should be dealt with within a framework of sustainable development, and that adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change should be a high priority. The climate already is changing and, therefore, adaptive measures are essential.
And so, in 2004, COP10 approved the Buenos Aires Programme of Work on Adaptation and Response Measures, giving unprecedented status to adaptation to climate change. Among other points, the 2001 Bonn Agreement established a fund to help developing nations adapt to the negative effects of climate change. But uncertainty over the actual effects of climate change, the vast funding needed and the fact that further negotiations will require the allocation of responsibilities and obligations mean that progress is extremely slow.
All national governments agree that, ultimately, technological research, development and application can resolve climate-change issues. The UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol stress the need for transfer of advanced technology to developing nations to assist their participation in international efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. But developed nations are concerned that such transfers will damage the competitiveness of their businesses and products, and have found numerous excuses over the last decade to drag their feet on this obligation.
Despite a number of resolutions from the Conference of the Parties -- the association of nations that have ratified the UNFCCC – there have not been any genuine examples of transfer of advanced technology from a developed nation to a developing one in order to reduce emissions. Developing nations continue to ask developed nations to carry out this obligation, and it is an ever-present – not to mention difficult and heated - issue at UNFCCC and Kyoto talks. Many representatives of developing nations feel weary and at a loss. Advanced technology provides competitiveness, and it is no easy task to persuade developed countries to give up profitable technology.
The Kyoto Protocol is a milestone in international environmental cooperation, but for a number of reasons many nations are looking for a new mechanism for cooperation on climate change. A range of bilateral, multilateral, closed-door and open methods are being used to create new agreements. For example, the US has launched the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy (IPHE), the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF), the Methane to Markets Partnerships, the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) and the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (APP), all outside the UN climate talks framework. Canada is attempting to extend the G20 meetings of finance ministers to climate change, creating an international climate change mechanism based around meetings of energy and environment ministers.
The advantage of these non-UN systems are that they are easier to operate and are more efficient decision-makers. But they have less coverage and their decisions are not legally binding, relying only on voluntary implementation. So they can complement and promote the UNFCCC and Kyoto talks, but not replace them. China has made this clear when participating in these regional organisations.
Other matters that give rise to heated debate during UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol negotiations are: the protocol’s flexible instruments, such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation (JI); efforts to build capacity among developing countries and help them adapt to climate change; incentive mechanisms for developing countries to cease felling trees and hence reduce overall carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions; greenhouse-gas emissions in the aviation and shipping sectors; and examining developed nations’ implementation of the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol. These issues have a direct influence on implementation of the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol, and are raised at every round of negotiations. This does not mean that the discussions are any less heated.
Climate change is a complex issue, not a simple environmental matter. It affects numerous interests, and so conflict and disagreements are unavoidable. Regardless, the very nature of the problem means that only international agreements can resolve it. All signatories need to take a global perspective on cooperation and carry out their responsibilities according to their abilities and obligations. Only by doing so can they resolve this global, long-term problem. There will be no other option.
Lu Xuedu is deputy director-general at the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology’s Office of Global Environmental Affairs. Dr. Lu also is a member of the UNFCCC Clean Development Mechanism executive board and of China’s delegation to UN climate-change talks.