Rhein on Energy and Climate

With one month to go before the opening of the 16th ministerial climate conference in Cancun, the EU Environment Council, meeting on October 24th, has defined its expectations and “negotiation directives”. The “Council Conclusions” adopted to that end contain a lot of exaggerated hopes, couched in an excessive technical jargon.

Who would not agree that “progress towards establishing an ambitious post-2012 regime to combat climate change is becoming ever more urgent”? Unfortunately, the two preparatory ministerial conferences in Bonn and Tianjin hardly justify any hopes for a breakthrough at Cancun.

There is no agreement on 2020 or 2050 emission targets for either developed or developing countries. It is therefore rather surrealistic for the Council recall the need for global emissions to peak by 2020 and for developed countries to reduce them by 30 percent over 1990.

It is no less surrealistic for the EU to continue insisting on “a global and comprehensive legally binding framework” to be agreed upon latest 2011 in South Africa, as long as the two major emitting countries – USA and China – stubbornly refuse to sign any legal binding texts and when signatory countries like Canada of the – legally binding- Kyoto Protocol persist ignoring their obligations.

So what can we realistically expect from Cancun?

An agreement to reduce the rate of deforestation in tropical countries by 50 percent until 2020, against appropriate financial contributions from developed countries.

An invitation to the ICAO and the IMO to come up with global policy frameworks to stabilise and reduce the emissions from aviation and shipping.

A commitment by the developed countries to effectively launch the $ 30 billion urgency emergency fund for 2010-12 that is meant to finance projects for climate mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, though 2010 has elapsed without defining the operational ground rules.

A commitment for a “Green Climate Fund” for investing $ 100 billion annually after 2020.

The creation of a “Climate Technology Network”, the precise functions and finance still lack clarification.

Such a result would be anything but impressive and unlikely to have any positive impact on climate change, the more so as the parties continue to disagree on monitoring climate action, with China remaining absolutely opposed to any effective regime of MRV (“monitoring, reporting and verification”).

As long as the world sticks to its ineffective negotiation method having all the 192 UN member countries around the table there is little chance of ever reaching consensual agreements: only if China, USA, EU, India, Japan and Russia that account for three quarters of global emissions negotiate a draft agreement to be submitted for approval to the rest of international community is there hope for ever concluding a meaningful global agreement. But so far it suits the main emitter countries to hide behind the UN bureaucracy, which lacks the legitimacy to make meaningful proposals, and to depart from 20-year old texts, which have lost much of their validity.

In the absence of a global agreement, individual countries will take national action in view of getting a lead in advanced energy technologies (China, Germany, USA, Korea and Japan) or improving energy security (EU, Japan, USA). Such efforts may lead to significant reductions of emissions by individual countries (e.g. EU, China, Japan and even USA) but fall short of creating necessary global dynamics.

After Cancun the time will have come for a radical revision of the global approach to international climate policy. It should be up to the EU to take appropriate initiatives.

Brussels 18.10.10 Eberhard Rhein

Author :