No decision now on second commitment to Kyoto Protocol: Figueres

U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres poses with a T-shirt from the International Youth Climate Organisation during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico on Thursday.  

As the first week of negotiations draws to a close at the United Nations climate change conference here, it seems that Cancun can't. It was in any case not expected to deliver any decision on the commitments to the second phase of the Kyoto protocol. With Japan's forthright statement on Monday and reluctance on the part of the other countries such as Russia, Canada and Australia to commit to a second phase, the entire negotiation is fraught with uncertainty.

To add to this the ALBA or the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, which comprise nations of the South America and the Caribbean, has upped the ante by demanding a firm commitment from developed nations to the second phase of the Kyoto protocol, putting pressure on the main polluters. Matters were worsened by rumours of a secret text floated at the conference, which was strenuously denied by Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), on Thursday. The secret text, according to a statement released by NGOs says the presidency of the conference of parties, Mexico, has convened an exclusive small group of countries aimed at agreeing on a text on the most sensitive topic, the mitigation efforts of developed and developing countries.

While Ms. Figueres, the United States and the European Union (EU) and China are reiterating that they want a balanced outcome to Cancun, it is clear that Japan has indeed put a spoke in the wheel. Japan's contention is not new as are the positions of the others like Russia, Canada and Australia. The ALBA countries are raising the temperature before a more high level political phase of the negotiations that will begin next week with the Ministers. Bolivia, which is part of the ALBA, said that a few nations were holding the Kyoto Protocol to ransom by blocking progress and since it was ratified it required a second period of commitment. It was unfair for the rest to suffer because wealthy nations were blocking the process.

Unfazed by Japan and the ALBA countries, Ms. Figueres said all this was not news. She stressed on compromise and a balanced package of decisions. However, Japan is clear that while it does not want to kill the Kyoto Protocol, it wants other developed countries on board with a binding agreement which will commit to reducing emissions. Akira Yamada , Deputy Director-General for global issues, International Cooperation Bureau, Ministry of Foreign affairs, Japan, said, the negotiations were at a stage where a constructive outcome could be reached which could be a step towards Durban, where the next United Nations climate change conference would be held.

A balanced outcome implied that a concrete outcome can be reached on forestry, finance, mitigation, Measurement Reporting and Verification/International Consultation and Analysis and a whole package of these issues. The role of all countries was important in reducing greenhouse gases (GHG)s. “We should cooperate with each other, not criticise each other,” he remarked.

“Japan doesn't want to kill the Kyoto Protocol, it only said it will not accept the second phase of commitment to the Kyoto Protocol. Japan will continue to be a member,” he clarified. He said Japan was keen on a single legally binding agreement in which all major polluters participated.

No secret Mexican text

Ms. Figueres, briefing the press, denied there was any secret Mexican text. Japan was clear about its position for a long time and it comes as no surprise that it had made a statement on its position, she reiterated. “The challenge of Cancun is how to formulate the broad array of proposals from developed countries under the UNFCCC framework,” she said. Even the position of the ALBA countries was known and there was no news there. Their position was 180 degrees opposite to Japan. “I don't think it will be possible to guarantee a second commitment to the Kyoto Protocol. And it could be addressed later, but not at Cancun,” she said.

The challenge is also to go beyond the stated positions of various countries and look for areas of compromise, she pointed out. The U.S. special envoy for climate change Todd Stern also spoke of a balanced package of decisions anchoring the pledges made in the Copenhagen accord. The watchword is balanced progress on key issues. At Cancun, the key was to unlock the door to decisions followed by a fast track process in 2011. “We can get there if countries don't create stumbling blocks,” he said adding that the outcome hangs in the balance. He said it was not hard for mitigation, transparency issues, and other things to move together at a comparable rate. Regarding the Kyoto Protocol, he said the U.S. was in a funny place since it was not part of the Protocol. He said that while fully understanding the difficulties, there was a chance to make progress. He, however, emphasised on the transparency issues and said that was an important aspect of any agreement.

The EU too stressed on the constructive aspects of the negotiations and said the magical word at Cancun was “balance.” It can't be that one group of countries goes away with everything and another with nothing, said Artur Runge-Metzger, one of the EU's chief negotiators. The EU was looking at a middle ground but not ruling out failure at the same time.

‘Price of inaction’

Twenty more years of inaction would lead to nearly one million deaths a year by 2030 due to climate change, says a new report analysing climate change impacts, and even industrialised countries are not spared, suffering more than half of all economic costs.

The Climate Vulnerability Monitor prepared by DARA, a humanitarian research organisation, and the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of the most vulnerable countries, launched a report on Thursday which examined the vulnerabilities in all regions of the world to climate change. It collates existing information and reports, to focus on the impact of weather changes, and categorises countries according to their vulnerability. It also assesses each country according to estimated effects in health, weather disasters, human habitat loss, and economic stress on affected sectors and natural resources.

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