DURBAN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE: Progress towards a binding international agreement on targets to tackle global warming has been more than glacial. Yet despite growing alarm among the climate science community, the UN climate conference, which begins in Durban this week, will fail to deliver any breakthrough. Indeed, many predict there won’t be any real progress until 2015 at the earliest.
In 2009 in Copenhagen, parties to the UN Climate Change treaty (UNFCCC) agreed to aspire to limit global warming to below 2ºC. But, crucially, those parties failed to agree on binding global and national mitigation targets for 2020 and 2050. Instead, as a fall-back, individual states nominated their own voluntary national targets, which were subsequently confirmed at Cancun in 2010.
The major sticking point is entrenched disagreement between developed and developing countries about the future of the Kyoto Protocol, and China’s and the United States’ jockeying for global economic supremacy.
The Kyoto Protocol’s modest but mandatory targets apply only to developed countries. They cover a first commitment period – from 2008-2012. When current commitments under the Protocol end in 2012, only voluntary national targets will remain.
The Protocol also established mechanisms for achieving these targets. these mechanisms include emissions trading, and measures for developing and exchanging carbon offsets between developed countries (the Joint Implementation Mechanism or JI), and between developed and developing countries (the Clean Development Mechanism or CDM). The architecture of these lucrative trading mechanisms is not under threat.
The United States has consistently refused to ratify the Protocol, insisting China and other major developing countries commit to binding targets (despite the Protocol and the Treaty requiring no such commitment). Attempts by President Obama and the Democrats to develop a more inclusive stratagem remain blocked by Congress. Without a shift in domestic political forces, real progress by the US on this issue is unlikely.