Climate, US and China

Sixteen years ago in 1997, 192 countries signed an agreement to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, but the Kyoto Protocol was hamstrung from the start, because it failed to get the backing of the world's current top emitters: the US and China. The Kyoto Protocol expires in 2020, and the latest round of negotiations to replace it kicked off in Warsaw on November 17, 2013. It is clear that this time round the negotiations will need to be tailored towards the demands of the US and China if a deal is to be struck.

Former lead climate negotiator for the Netherlands Maas Groote told news website Responding to Climate Change: "...without [the US and China] you will not have an effective instrument on your hands ...So you have to tailor an instrument that will fit their political context ...At the end of the day you want an agreement, some kind of an outcome, that China and the US can embrace".

While President Obama has indicated that he wants the US to re-engage with the process—a stance he backed up by attending the 2009 negotiations in person—eight years of obstruction by the George W Bush administration made participants wary of US motives. China has been the most notable critic, arguing that it can't be expected to commit to emissions reductions until the US shows it is willing to lead. One of the main sticking points between the two countries is how much responsibility more and less economically developed countries take for cutting emissions.

China has indicated it will accept some emissions curbs, but thinks the traditional economic powerhouses that have—historically been responsible for more emissions—including the US—should take the lead. The US isn't happy with this, arguing that China is now economically developed enough to take responsibility for its emissions. That could mean changes to the way any new deal is structured.

Currently, the Kyoto protocol requires the most economically developed countries—known as Annex I countries—to make the most severe emissions reductions and provide most of the money to help less economically developed countries reduce theirs. China is currently not considered an Annex I country, however—a source of chagrin for the US negotiators, who see China as shirking their international obligations. China maintains that the Annex I countries are yet to meet their own commitments, however. Some countries, including Japan and Australia, look set to miss their Kyoto Protocol emissions reduction targets, and some, like Canada, have abandoned the treaty altogether.

Meanwhile, sea-level is rising. Although the UN climate report significantly increases its projections for sea level rise this century, some scientists warn even those estimates are overly conservative.

In China, the Yellow River delta is currently sinking so fast that local sea levels are rising by up to 25 centimetres per year, nearly 100 times the global average. How tiny islets in the Sunderbans of Bengal delta are gradually vanishing in the Bay of Bengal, is no longer a guarded secret. People are living in prepetual danger of being submerged. Ocean is eating their land and habitat.

For all practical purposes the Kyoto Protocal is dead. Whether the next round of negotiations in Poland could salvage the Kyoto spirit is anybody’s guess. The world’s chances of reaching a deal in 2015, which is the new landmark year in the UN-led process after a 2009 summit in Copenhagen ended in discord. In truth there was not much progress at the 12-day UN Climate Change Convention’s 19th Conference of the Parties (CoP) that began on 11 November 2013, in Poland’s capital Warsaw.     [contributed]

Vol. 46, No. 24, Dec 22 -28, 2013

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