1) Article: NY Times: climate change too big for current architecture, By JOHN M. BRODER, Published: December 11, 2011
What really is at play here are politics on the broadest scale, the relations among Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan and three rapidly rising economic powers, China, India and Brazil. Those international relations, in turn, are driven by each country’s domestic politics and the strains the global financial crisis has put on all of them. And the question of “climate equity” – the obligations of rich nations to help poor countries cope with a problem they had no part in creating – is more than an “environmental” issue.
Effectively addressing climate change will require over the coming decades a fundamental remaking of energy production, transportation and agriculture around the world – the sinews of modern life. It is simply too big a job for the men and women who have gathered for these talks under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1992 treaty that began this grinding process.
China still is classified as a developing country and is thus exempt from any emissions limits, but it has a vastly larger economy than it had in 1992 and recently surpassed the United States as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The United States is determined to sweep away those distinctions and work toward a system where all countries are bound by the same rules.
Two years ago, more than 100 heads of state and leaders of governments, including President Obama, joined the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen hoping to write a new, legally binding treaty covering all parties. That assignment proved too much even for the leaders, and the meeting collapsed in acrimony and finger-pointing. Few top leaders have shown up at the two subsequent meetings, in Cancún, Mexico, in 2010 and in Durban this year. The agenda has narrowed and expectations have shrunk, yet the ship sails grimly on.
Mary D. Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, which arguably has done more to reduce carbon pollution in the United States than any other body, was in Durban as an observer. Ms. Nichols said that given the inability of the international bureaucracy or the United States Congress to move decisively on global warming, the job would increasingly fall to the states and local governments.
“Instead of waiting for them to negotiate some grand bargain, we have to keep working on the ground,” she said. “Progress is going to come from the bottom up, not the top down. That’s just reality.”
2) Article: U.S. Climate Envoy Seems to Shift Stance on Timetable for New Talks, By JOHN M. BRODER, Published: December 8, 2011
Todd D. Stern, the Obama administration’s special envoy for climate change, was put on the defensive by a narrative developing here that the United States opposed any further action to address global climate disruption until after 2020, when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a primary United Nations climate agreement, and voluntary programs negotiated more recently will have run their course. He firmly denied that the United States was dragging its feet and, somewhat ambiguously, endorsed a proposal from the European Union to quickly start negotiating a new international climate change treaty.
Mr. Stern’s statement to delegates from more than 190 nations at the annual climate conference was disrupted by a 21-year-old Middlebury College junior, Abigail Borah, who told the assembly that she would speak for the United States because Mr. Stern had forfeited the right to do so.
“I am speaking on behalf of the United States of America because my negotiators cannot,” said Ms. Borah, who is attending the conference as a representative of the International Youth Climate Movement. “The obstructionist Congress has shackled justice and delayed ambition for far too long. I am scared for my future. 2020 is too late to wait. We need an urgent path to a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty.”
Scores of delegates and observers gave her a sustained ovation. Then the South African authorities threw her out of the conference. “That’s O.K.,” Ms. Borak, who is from Princeton, N.J., said later by telephone. “I think I got my point across.”
Mr. Stern then seemed to endorse a European Union proposal to adopt a “road map” for future discussions leading to a formal climate change treaty to be completed by 2015 and to take effect in 2020. He had previously given lukewarm support to the plan, saying only that the United States was open to a “process” for a future agreement. His language was somewhat convoluted, but he said that the European Union had called for a road map “that the U.S. supports.”
The Europeans and a large majority of smaller nations are adamant that any future accord be legally binding, while China, India, the United States and several other major emitters of greenhouse gases have attached some difficult conditions to participation in any mandatory agreement.
The results of the talks:
3) Article : U.N. Climate Talks End With Deal for New Emissions Treaty, By JOHN M. BRODER, Published: December 11, 2011
Two weeks of contentious United Nations talks over climate change concluded Sunday morning with an agreement by more than 190 nations to work toward a future treaty that would require all countries to reduce emissions that contribute to global warming.
The result, coming as the sun rose after nearly 72 hours of continuous wrangling, marked an important but very initial step toward the dismantling of a 20-year-old system that requires advanced industrialized nations to cut emissions while allowing developing countries — including the economic powerhouses China, India and Brazil — to escape binding commitments.
The deal on a future treaty was the most contested element of a package of agreements that emerged from the extended talks here. For now it remains a pledge to move forward, and all the details remain to be negotiated.
The delegates also agreed on the creation of a fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change — though the precise sources of the money have yet to be determined — and to measures involving the preservation of tropical forests and the development of clean-energy technology.
The European Union had pushed hard for what it called a “road map” to a new, legally binding treaty against fierce resistance from China and India, whose delegates argued passionately against it. They said that mandatory cuts would slow their growth and condemn millions to poverty.
“Am I to write a blank check and sign away the livelihoods and sustainability of 1.2 billion Indians, without even knowing what the E.U. ‘road map’ contains?” asked India’s environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan. “Please do not hold us hostage.”
The deal renews the Kyoto Protocol, the fraying 1997 emissions agreement that sets different terms for advanced and developing countries, for several more years. But it also begins a process for replacing it with something that treats all nations equally. The expiration date of the protocol — 2017 or 2020 — and the terms of any agreement that replaces it will be negotiated at future sessions of the governing body, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The United States never signed the Kyoto treaty because it did not accept its division of labor between developed and developing countries.
The conclusion of the meeting was marked by exhaustion and explosions of temper, and the result was muddled and unsatisfying to many. Observers and delegates said that the actions taken at the meeting, while sufficient to keep the negotiating process alive, would not have a significant impact on climate change.
4) Article: Durban climate change: the agreement explained, By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent, Durban, South Africa, 11 Dec 2011
What has happened in Durban?
More than 190 countries met for two weeks for the latest round of United Nations climate change negotiations. The aim of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to stop global warming by limiting global carbon emissions. The talks dragged on two days longer than expected, making this the longest UNFCCC meeting ever experienced.
What has been achieved?
At the end of the gruelling talks the world decided on the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action”. The two-page document commits all countries to cutting carbon for the first time. A “road map” will guide countries towards a legal deal to cut carbon in 2015, but it will only come into affect after 2020.
For more details, read Article: U.N. Climate Talks End With Deal for New Emissions Treaty, By JOHN M. BRODER, Published: December 11, 2011
Is this a step forwards for the world or backwards?
It depends who you ask. It is a success in terms of keeping the climate change talks on track after it was feared no decision would be reached, […] especially after the collapse of the Copenhagen Summit in 2009. The EU, who led calls for the so-called “road map” are hailing it as “an historic breakthrough”. The bloc point out that this is the first time that the world’s three biggest emitters: The US, China and India have signed up to a legal treaty to cut carbon.
However it is a failure in terms of the expectations of certain countries, like the small island states, and the charities, who wanted a much stronger agreement. They argue that the legal language needs to be a lot stronger to force countries to act and dates should be brought forward to stop global warming. They point out that carbon emissions will have to peak by 2020 and start to come down for the world to limit temperature rise to 2C.
What about the Kyoto Protocol?
The EU and a few other developed countries have signed up to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, that ends in 2013. This will ensure that there is still some form of legally binding treaty to cut carbon in place in the interim eight years before the new agreement comes into force at the end of 2020. However most of the developing world and the US remain in voluntary agreements to cut carbon until 2020.
What about the money on the table?
The world has agreed to a help poor countries cope with climate change through a new Green Climate Fund that will hand out around £60bn per annum from 2020. A body will be set up to distribute and manage the funds. It is not yet clear how the money will be raised. Possible plans to raise fund from a tax on shipping or aviation have not been signed off.
What about deforestation?
A scheme to pay poor countries not to chop down trees, Reducing Emissions from Degradation and Deforestation (REDD) has barely moved forward in the meeting as again countries cannot decide how to raise the cash. There are concerns that money from carbon markets could make it too corrupt and that indigenous people will be pushed out. However REDD remains on the table and will be developed over the next few years as part of the new deal alongside rules in the Kyoto Protocol to stop deforestation.
The next UNFCCC meeting in Quatar next year will start negotiations towards the 2015 deal, including the kind of targets each country will sign up to. There will also be discussion of carbon cuts for the EU and a few other countries under the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. The rest of the world will be pushed to increase their targets to cut carbon through voluntary agreements before 2020 through civil society and political pressure.
What is the gigatonne gap?
There remains a gap between how much the world has pledged to cut carbon and how much carbon emissions need to come down to stop global warming according to the science. The UN estimate there is still a six tonne “gigatonne gap” unless ambitions can be scaled up through voluntary agreements over the next decade.
What was the sticking point that brought the talks to the edge of collapse?
In the closing hours of the meeting it came down to a dispute over legal form. India and China, the world’s two biggest emerging economies, wanted the vaguest “legal outcome” because this would allow a looser treaty on cutting carbon for developing countries. But the EU insisted on “protocol or legal instrument” for all. In the end a compromise was found of “agreed outcome with legal force” that both sides could live with.
Who are the heroes and villains?
India emerged as the villains, after Jayanthi Natarajan, India’s Environment Minister, refused to sign up a deal that would commit the developing world to a strong legal treaty. She was backed by China, who also seemed reluctant to cut carbon at home.
However although the protests by the world’s second and third biggest carbon emitters claimed their concerns are based on “climate justice”. They argue that they need to carry on emitting carbon to bring millions of people out of poverty over the next few decades.
The US, as the world’s biggest emitter, made it clear they were also happy with a weak legal outcome.
The EU rescued the talks from collapsing but it could be a bitter victory as the deal is so vague and fails to cut carbon fast enough.
The South Africans were criticised for letting the conference go into extra time for two days but ultimately it has been a success for them by achieving some sort of a deal.
What does it all mean for ordinary people?
Europe is already cutting carbon but this will increase pressure to increase the target from 20 per cent by 2020 to 30 per cent by 2030. As part of the bloc it will also encourage the UK to increase their targets, although they are already committed to 34 per cent by 2020. The rest of the world will also be encouraged to cut carbon on a voluntary basis at first and as part of the deal in 2020.
It could mean the carbon price increases and carbon markets begin to function better pushing up the price of fossil fuels but ensuring investment in wind and solar. In the UK this could mean ‘green jobs’ for the economy but also costs to the tax payer through energy bills to pay for the new power stations.
The new Green Climate Fund will also be paid for by tax payers.
Didn’t this conference just produce more carbon towards global warming?
Well yes. It has been estimated that the carbon footprint for the event could be in the order of 15,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. However this does not include the flights of the 13,000 delegates. Durban City Council is offsetting the footprint by through an ecosystem rehabilitation project in the uMbilo catchment west of Durban. It is expected to offset 16,000 CO2e.
5) Article: Canada is first nation to pull out of Kyoto Protocol, By David Ljunggren and Randall Palmer, Reuters, Dec 12 2011
Canada breaks the news upon returning from climate talks in Durban, where countries agreed to extend Kyoto for 5 years and hammer out a new deal.
“To meet the targets under Kyoto for 2012 would be the equivalent of either removing every car truck, all-terrain vehicle, tractor, ambulance, police car and vehicle off every kind of Canadian road,” said Environment Minister Peter Kent.
Canada on Monday became the first country to announce it would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, dealing a symbolic blow to the already troubled global treaty. Canada, a major energy producer which critics complain is becoming a climate renegade, has long complained Kyoto is unworkable precisely because it excludes so many significant emitters.
The right-of-center Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which has close ties to the energy sector, says Canada would be subject to penalties equivalent to $14 billion Canadian dollars ($13.6 billion U.S.) under the terms of the treaty for not cutting emissions by the required amount by 2012. The Conservatives took power in 2006 and quickly made clear they would not stick to Canada’s Kyoto commitments on the grounds it would cripple the economy and the energy sector. Canada is the largest supplier of oil and natural gas to the United States and is keen to boost output of crude from Alberta’s oil sands, which requires large amounts of energy to extract.
Kent said Canada would work toward a new global deal obliging all major nations to cut output of greenhouse gases China and India are not bound by Kyoto’s current targets.
Canada’s former Liberal government signed up to Kyoto, which dictated a cut in emissions to 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. By 2009 emissions were 17 percent above the 1990 levels, in part because of the expanding tar sands development.
6) Article: Qatar, a Greenhouse Gas Titan, to Host U.N. Climate Meeting, By JOHN M. BRODER, November 29, 2011
The Persian Gulf nation of Qatar has been selected as the site of the United Nations climate change meeting next year, edging out South Korea. The announcement from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change said Qatar and South Korea would work closely to mold the agenda for next year’s meeting, known as the 18th annual Conference of the Parties, or COP 18. The meetings rotate among regions. The 2009 meeting was held in Copenhagen; last year’s meeting was in Cancún, Mexico.
The press release does not mention that Qatar, which sits atop vast natural gas deposits, has the highest per-capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world, according to the United Nations Statistics Division. Qatar’s 2007 annual per-capita emissions of 55 tons were nearly three times those of the United States.