Rhein on Energy and Climate

The international community is busy negotiating new C02 reduction targets for 2013-2020. There is agreement that these ought to be much tougher than those for 1990-2010. For the developed countries the ambition is for a 25-40 cut over 1990. That is a tall order!

The risk is therefore high that governments will take commitments without having the political will or the means of implementing them, as some have done when signing the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

According to Article 13 of the Kyoto Protocol, the Conference of the Parties shall keep implementation under regular review and take the necessary decisions to promote (not enforce!) its effective implementation.

Unfortunately, the reality has been far off the mark. The Conference of the Parties has quietly ignored the gross failure by Canada to comply with its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. Canada had taken a legal commitment for reducing its emissions by 6 percent but is far from delivering. In 2008, its emissions were almost 30 percent higher than in 1990.

Oil sands are the main culprit. Successive Canadian governments have allowed international oil companies to invest almost $200 billion into one of the most climate-damaging fossil fuels, without imposing the requisite environmental standards and technologies e.g. by carbon capture and storage.

Governments have openly defied Canada’s Kyoto commitments, hiding behind the non-action of the Bush government.

The EU bears its share of responsibility. It should have warned Canada about the risk of sapping the credibility of international climate policy and put its prime minister on notice at the Heiligendamm G 8 meeting in 2007 where climate change was the main issue!

The Canadian lack of compliance makes it urgent to draw the appropriate lessons for the future.

Here are three naïve suggestions:

The new climate agreement must provide for a more effective compliance machinery. A “Compliance Committee” must continuously assess the implementation by all parties and publish its results.

The ministers for climate policy must, once a year, review compliance and take appropriate decisions concerning non-compliant countries.

The Conference of the Parties should have authority to impose fines on non-authorised emissions and oblige parties to make up for past shortcomings.

Without an effective compliance mechanism international climate policy will remain a toothless tiger. What is the use of international meetings and legal texts if nobody is really held to take commitments serious? It is time for negotiators to tackle these crucial issues.

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