Doha Climate Change Conference: Spotlight on Kyoto Protocol as tension emerges in talks

Updated On: Nov 28, 2012

An extension of the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 agreement limiting emissions of heat-trapping gases by industrialised countries, is expected to be a major issue on the agenda as the Doha Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 18) went underway. the US, facing criticism regarding its lack of action, defended its climate change mitigation record. Talks have also turned tense as delegates began to discuss the Kyoto Protocol.

Kyoto Protocol extension in the spotlight

The Kyoto Protocol is seen as the most critical climate pact reached in the UN process so far. Expiring this year, Doha delegates will try to extend it as a stopgap measure until a wider deal can be reached. Talks are starting on a new global deal post-Kyoto that is supposed to be adopted in 2015 and implemented in 2020.

Nicholas Fang, Nominated Member of Parliament and Director of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, remarked, "With some 200 countries attending the UN Climate Change conference in Doha this week, all eyes will be on whether or not the delegates will be able to finally find a way to extend the Kyoto Protocol which ends this year."

However, several countries like Japan and Canada indicated they would not be party to a Kyoto extension. In its current form, the Kyoto Protocol would now only include the European Union, Australia and several smaller countries which together account for less than 15 percent of global emissions.

The US has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol as it did not impose binding commitments on major developing countries like China and India. But China and other developing countries prefer a clear distinction, saying climate change is mainly the result of Western industrialisation and that their own emissions must be allowed to rise as their economies grow. The disagreement caused the failure to create a new climate treaty in Copenhagen in 2009.

Mr Fang noted that analysts have raised suggestions to improve the UN procedure. "Given the failure of past editions to find a formula to curb greenhouse gas emissions that is acceptable to rich and poor nations alike, suggestions have been raised to either cap the size of delegations attending the conference or employing majority voting to overcome obstacles thrown up by the need to obtain a consensus before decisions can be effected," he observed.

The UN talks are seen not to have fulfilled their main purpose of reducing emissions. The goal is to keep the global temperature rise under 2°C, compared to pre-industrial times. But a recent report by the World Bank showed temperatures are projected to increase by up to 4°C by 2100, and the UN reported that concentration of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide has jumped 20 percent since 2000.

"With increasing incidences of the impact of climate change being manifested around the world, such as more floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising sea levels, there is growing pressure for a global deal to slow climate change which can enter into force by 2020 and make a meaningful difference to the global environment," Mr Fang said.

US defends climate change record; tension emerges in talks

The US defended its track record on Monday, saying it is making "enormous" efforts to slow global warming and assist poor nations most adversely impacted by it, as emphasised by US delegate Jonathan Pershing. This comes as countries accuse the US of hampering climate talks since the Bush administration abandoned the Kyoto Protocol.

Mr Pershing noted that the Obama administration has taken steps including enhancing fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, as well as climate financing for poor countires.

On Tuesday, the first signs of tensions emerged as delegates from the island and African states criticised rich countries for refusing to offer up new emissions cuts over the next eight years.

Japan defended its decision not to sign onto a Kyoto extension, insisting that it would be better to focus on coming to an agreement by 2015 that would bind all countries to reduce emissions below 2°C.

Japan's decision, along with that of other developed countries, could again spark heated arguments between developing and developed nations. Countries like Brazil warned that it will be difficult for poor nations to do their part of they continue to see rich countries avoid legally-binding pacts like the Kyoto Protocol.

Report: US defends 'enormous' climate efforts at UN talks [AP, in USA Today, 26 Nov 2012]

Report: UN climate talks turn tense as delegates debate extending Kyoto Protocol [AP, in Global Edmonton, 27 Nov 2012]

Analysts see NGO and private sector role

According to the WWF, the present emission reduction pledges from the second commitment period to begin in 2013 would only amount to 12-18 percent of the agreed reduction to 1990 levels that was planned to be reached by 2020. This means a huge gap would not be covered by current pledges.

A commentary from Jakarta Post said that civil society is addressing this gap by pressuring parties to raise the bar for their second period commitments, an even more pressing task given the announced withdrawals of major participants from the second commitment.

Another commentary from The Guardian said the private sector must lead the way, given the lack of government action, and champion the message that the path lies in strategic market investment, and not just in emissions reduction within boundaries.

The Guardian's commentary cautions that given current circumstances, no one should expect COP 18 to significantly deliver for the private sector or the climate. But businesses will be making up for the shortcomings in the system, and has the chance to influence the structure and efficacy of any future global agreement. Despite flaws in the UN system and the EU emissions trading scheme, countries including Brazil, China, India, Korea, Mexico, and Vietnam have adopted market-based approaches, and are doing a better job, according to the commentary.

Analysis: Doha talks and effective global climate governance [Rini Astuti, Jakarta Post, 27 Nov 2012]

Analysis: The private sector must lead the way on climate change [Jonathan Shopley, The Guardian, 26 Nov 2012]