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Just Hot Air

Climate change, as a phenomenon, is alarming. That said, it is even more distressing to understand the political developments around it. Our overheating world and its economies—both developed and developing—have witnessed many global climate talks and treaties. As you must know, the most recent United Nations climate change conference was held in Mexico’s exotic and beautiful Cancún. Hereon, we demystify the jargon.

What is COP16/CMP6?
COP16/CMP6 is the 16th edition of Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP) and the 6th Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP). “Parties” refers to all the national states that signed and ratified both of the international treaties. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has been signed by 194 State Parties and the Kyoto Protocol has been ratified by 184 State Parties.

What is the Kyoto Protocol?
The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement, is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse
gas (GHG) emissions .These amount to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005.

Copenhagen:
The disaster that it was

COP15, held last year at the Danish capital was a declared failure. Lumumba Di-Aping, chief negotiator for the G77 group of 130 developing countries, said the deal had “the lowest level of ambition you can imagine. It’s nothing short of climate change skepticism in action. It locks countries into a cycle of poverty for ever.” John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “The city of Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight, with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport. Lydia Baker of Save the Children said world leaders had “effectively signed a death warrant for many of the world’s poorest children. Up to 250,000 children from poor communities could die before the next major meeting in Mexico at the end of next year.”

So why did the summit fail to deliver? One of the most crucial factors that led to the summit’s failure was the fact that no key government was keen on a global deal. Everyone talked, but no one listened or pushed the negotiations forward. Eventually, leaders of US and the BASIC group of countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) came up with a lastminute
deal. Another reason for the failure has been attributed to the confrontation between the West and the developing countries. Though Kyoto Protocol was not totally scrapped as India and other developing nations feared no progress was made either. The rich nations pushed for a new treaty that would absolve them of all their past excesses and hold all nations equally responsible for curbing green house gas emissions. The developing countries, on the other hand, wanted a treaty on the lines of the Kyoto Protocol, demanding specific commitments from the developed world.

No one agreed to any emission cut. While the rich countries refused to go beyond committing 14-18 per cent cuts, as compared to the 1990 levels by 2020, the developing world was adamant to push them for 40 per cent cuts by 2020.

THE COPENHAGEN ACCORD
The Accord was not just weak and meaningless, but also fundamentally flawed.
It allows developed countries to increase emissions by negating the position that Annex I emissions should have peaked by the year 2000. It did not set drastic emission reduction targets for these countries.
■  If this Accord was to be accepted, the world would not be able to meet the 2°C target. It would be on course to at least 3°C and more – which will be disastrous for India’s and the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.
It legitimises inaction by industrialised countries and shifts the burden of the transition on to developing countries. In this way, it rejects the principle of historical responsibility and equitable burden sharing, emphasised by the Indian prime minister.

COP16: At a glance

Cancún wasn’t as catastrophic as last year’s Copenhagen summit. However, the meeting did not achieve the comprehensive, all-encompassing deal that many activists and governments expect.

Carbon emissions
The Copenhagen summit saw many developed countries make pledges to cut their GHG emissions by 2020. Cancún formally puts those pledges into UN documentation. Crucially, none of the cuts are legally binding, and analysis suggests the pledges wou
ld lead to a 3.2C rise in temperatures—far higher than the 2C generally considered to be a level of “safe” warming.

Kyoto protocol
Decisions on the future of the Kyoto protocol were effectively deferred until South Africa next year. Will countries sign up for a second “commitment period” to cuts beyond 2012? This too, remains to be seen.

Green fund
Cancún made it to the headlines after the declaration of a new green climate fund, promising to transfer money from the developed to developing world to tackle the impacts of climate change. However, the fund, not a part of the UN process comes with no specific cash promise.

Separately, ministers repeated their political promise made last year at Copenhagen to raise $100bn in climate aid by 2020. It’s important to note how the $100bn figure still remains a political aspiration, not included in the text of the final deal.

Deforestation scheme
Under Redd (Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation), UN’s deforestation scheme, rich countries pay poorer nations not to chop down forests, locking away carbon emissions. Formal backing was given to this scheme at Cancún. However, no details on when and exactly what form the scheme will take were given out. Will developed countries be able to use the scheme to “offset” their emissions rather than make cuts at home? This was another fact left unanswered.

The golden question is: Will modesty save the world?

Durban: The last-chance saloon

Climate change presents the world with what economists call a "collective action problem" that calls for nations to reach consensus on a common cause. The next summit at Durban will have to lay down a real action plan.

The most daunting task ahead: resolving the fate of the Kyoto protocol, the only existing legally binding treaty that expires in 2012. Some powerful nations want to see it killed as it requires emissions cuts from only 37 of the richest industrialized nations. Japan caused a diplomatic upset in Cancún by declaring it would block a second phase for Kyoto, and was backed by Russia and Canada. Most importantly, the US never ratified Kyoto so, like China, the world's other super-polluter, it is not bound by it.

As the Guardian points out, negotiators in Cancún parked the problem; those in Durban will not have that option.

Technology transfer
The idea of transferring knowledge of clean technology between countries was backed at Cancún. A technology executive committee and a climate technology centre and network are to be set up, but there are no details on the money, where they will be based, when or by whom.

Yvo de Boer, who stepped down this year after four years as executive secretary of the United Nations climate office, said that the success of this year’s conference was in large measure attributable to the modesty of its goals.