CHANGE: ‘Copenhagen Accord Not Legal, Kyoto Protocol Is’

Inter Press Services, January 26, 2010
While the BASIC bloc countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China – will submit their plans for voluntary mitigation actions by the Jan. 31 deadline stipulated by the Copenhagen Accord, they have taken care to emphasise that the agreement, reached at the end of the December climate change summit in the Danish capital, has no legal basis.

Addressing a joint press conference after a meeting of concerned BASIC ministers on Sunday, India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh said: “We support the Copenhagen Accord. But all of us were unanimously of the view that its value lies not as a standalone document but as an input into the two- track negotiation process under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).”

Ramesh explained that the Accord was not a legal document and that the “understanding reached at Copenhagen was that the accord will facilitate the two-track negotiating process which is the only legitimate process to reach a legally binding treaty in Mexico.’’ The two-track negotiation process was agreed upon at the December 2007 Bali conference, pertaining to Long-Term Cooperative Action under the UNFCCC and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The BASIC meeting and the press conference were attended by Carlos Minc, the Brazilian environment minister, his counterpart from South Africa, Buyelwa Sonjica, and the vice-chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, Xie Zhenhua.

At the press conference, Xie said that the BASIC group’s objectives were consistent with the interests of the developing countries. “BASIC will take the lead in large-scale emission reduction and also stick to the policy of common but differentiated principle.” Sonjica said BASIC would not make any decision outside the Group of 77 (G-77) countries. “We see ourselves as adding value to the proposals of G-77,” she said.

Siddharth Pathak, a member of the international environmental group Greenpeace’s policy division, told IPS that the willingness of the BASIC group to support vulnerable countries by ensuring their participation in open and transparent negotiations and plans to provide technological and financial support was commendable. “We hope that this support will become tangible by the group’s next meeting in April.”

Pathak said that while BASIC appeared keen to consolidate itself as a group and also take along the G-77 countries, it needed to “demonstrate leadership, both in furthering negotiations on a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement, and in terms of pushing industrialised counties to urgently reduce GhG (greenhouse gas) emissions and make their own appropriate contributions.’’

Other analysts said the BASIC meeting had the potential of cementing differences both within and outside the bloc.

“What is crucial now is to see whether China and India will stick to carbon intensity figures in their action plans, as they announced before the Copenhagen meet,” said Siddharth Mishra, director at CUTS International, a leading economic policy and advocacy group. Carbon intensity is a measure of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of production.

“This will suit China well because it is already on a trajectory of lowering its energy intensity and it has voluntarily announced cuts of 40-45 percent before Copenhagen,” said Mitra. “India, too, can reduce the trend of the growth of its emissions and specify domestic regulations to ensure reductions in emissions from its dirty industries,” Mitra told IPS.

Mitra added: “We don’t know what the back-of-the-envelope calculations are, but both China and India may benefit from the pledge of 100 billion U.S. dollars by the end of the decade for developing countries to adapt to climate change and limit the global rise in temperatures, since industrialisation began, from exceeding two degrees Celsius.”

Denmark, as president of the Conference of Parties (CoP), has been asked by the BASIC ministers to convene immediately meetings of the two negotiation groups for the Kyoto Protocol and the Long-Term Cooperative Action in March and ensure that they meet on at least five more occasions before the 16th CoP in December.

After the BASIC countries joined hands with the United States in negotiating the Copenhagen Accord, at the end of the summit in the Danish capital, several developing countries expressed fears that the document would become legal and dilute the Bali two-track process.

BASIC ministers have also asked the rich nations to speedily distribute the 10 billion dollars they had pledged to the least developed countries and the islands to address climate change this year.

Brazil’s Minc said at the press conference that BASIC had decided to create its own fund to help small island states and the least developed countries. “The actual contributions will be decided at the next meeting of the BASIC in South Africa,” he said.

A day before the BASIC meet, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh let it be known that he had reservations over pressure from Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for follow-up action on the Copenhagen Accord and get results by the Jan. 31 deadline.

While the Accord had called for “economy-wide emission targets” by 2020 by the Annex-1 (rich countries) and the other countries to submit “mitigation actions,” Rasmussen and Ban had written separately to all heads of state and governments on Dec. 30, urging them to submit their commitments by Jan. 31.

Their joint letter was silent on the Kyoto Protocol, raising suspicions. Mitra said that such suspicions first surfaced after the UNFCCC executive secretary, Yvo de Boer, failed to mention the Kyoto Protocol at a press conference held soon after the Copenhagen Accord. “The impression that there is a plan afoot to bury Kyoto is not helped by the fact that the European Union is pushing it as a first step to new negotiations.’’

The Kyoto Protocol, the world’s only legally binding agreement, required 37 wealthy nations to cut GhG emissions by 2012, but asked for no commitments from developing countries. In contrast, the Copenhagen Accord does not talk of mitigation goals for the developed countries and is seen to be acting to lower the bar in climate negotiations when scientists warn that the climate is changing more rapidly than estimated earlier.

The Accord was opposed by Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Sudan on both substantive and procedural grounds. For that reason, it could not be accepted or endorsed by the CoP, which only “took note” of it, denying the document status at the U.N.

In an editorial on Tuesday, the respected ‘The Hindu’ newspaper commented that the response of BASIC “underscores the view of the developing world that the Copenhagen Accord chose to give insufficient importance to the central tenet of “common but differentiated responsibilities” outlined in the UNFCCC.

The Hindu editorial said one positive outcome of the “common strategy” adopted by BASIC countries was the fostering of “active South-South cooperation” to advance science. “Given that intellectual property rights on technology remain a major barrier to achieving higher energy efficiencies, such joint efforts involving India and China hold great promise.”

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