Clinging to Kyoto
COPENHAGEN -- The Africa group walked out of the negotiations today to protest perceived efforts by developed countries to kill the Kyoto Protocol. The talks resumed several hours later. While much of this is the typical drama that plays out at these meetings, Africa and other developing countries are legitimately reluctant to give up the Kyoto Protocol before they have greater assurance that a new legally binding treaty that includes strong commitments from major emitters, including the U.S, China and India will materialize. China and India also don't want to give up the Kyoto Protocol, but for different reasons. It's legal structure works to their advantage--it requires legally binding emissions cuts from developed countries and only soft commitments from developing countries. The U.S. will never join the Protocol for this very reason. Small island nations who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change want to leave Copenhagen with a new treaty that would keep global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius (the lower end of the range of what scientist say is needed to avoid the worst consequences of climate change) and include legally binding emission cuts from both developed and developing countries. With these divisions, countries face a huge dilemma on how to define the legal structure of the Copenhagen agreement.
Will the Copenhagen agreement be politically binding?
Since some expect only a political agreement in Copenhagen with a promise to turn that agreement into a legally binding treaty by the climate talks in Mexico in 2010 (or sooner), vulnerable countries, including those in Africa and small island states, are worried that big emitters such as the U.S. and China won't deliver on their Copenhagen promise. They fear they will find themselves literally underwater and stripped of their right to survive. The U.S. is not ready to sign up to a legally binding deal in Copenhagen because Congress has not yet passed climate and energy legislation. The U.S. Administration is concerned that agreeing to something legally binding in Copenhagen would set off a political fire storm on Capitol Hill and doom prospects for passing U.S. climate legislation. Given strong U.S. opposition, a legally binding agreement in Copenhagen seems implausible.
How will the Copenhagen deal weave together two tracks of negotiations?
There have been two tracks of climate talks for the past two years. The first is the Kyoto Protocol track. The U.S. does not participate in this track because it is not a Party to the Kyoto Protocol. The second track is separate from Kyoto and was launched two years ago in Bali to allow developed and developing countries, including the U.S., to discuss long-term cooperative action to address climate change. The second non-Kyoto track expires this week in Copenhagen. Most developed countries favor a single-track outcome in Copenhagen that would merge together the key elements of the two existing tracks. Japan, Europe and others don't want to sign up to new legally binding emission cuts under the Kyoto Protocol, only to have commitments by the U.S. and major developing country take on softer commitments under the political agreement reached in Copenhagen. Yet, developing countries don't want to end the Kyoto track until a new legally binding treaty in place. Ministers and Heads of State will need to resolve these and other tough questions this week to secure a strong climate deal in Copenahgen.
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