The Kyoto Protocol to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was doomed to face serious difficulties ab initio because it places the responsibility of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions only with developed countries (Annex I countries) as if they were the only sinners of climate change. A more plausible solution to reduce GHG emissions (which is the whole purpose of this exercise) is to involve major GHG emitters, irrespective of their GDP.
Instead of asking only Annex I countries to reduce GHG emissions, a more effective (and arguably fairer) way to tackle climate change today is by bringing together the major GHG emitters, irrespective of their GDP. Why? Because the Kyoto Protocol’s stipulation that only Annex I countries reduce their GHG emissions does not reflect the climate change reality of today or tomorrow. It is not enough to ask only Annex I countries to reduce their GHG emissions if the aim is to solve the climate issue. Major developing countries that are also major GHG emitters should be asked to reduce their GHG emissions. Why? Seen prospectively, climate change is a problem also linked to developing countries, as predictions indicate that developing countries will be the major polluters in the near future, as well as the major victims of the consequences of climate change, especially countries near the equator. Moreover, developing countries have already surpassed the industrialised world in total GHG emissions and will account for more than 75 per cent of emissions growth in the next 25 years.
The U.S. and other Annex I countries maintain that the terms of the Kyoto Protocol are unfair because they provide developing countries with inappropriate trade advantages and because the GHG emissions of leading developing countries are growing rapidly, and yet non-Annex I countries are not legally bound to reduce their GHG emissions. The world has changed dramatically since the UNFCCC divided the world into two categories in 1992. For instance, approximately fifty non-Annex I countries now have higher per capita incomes than the poorest of the Annex I countries with commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. In the same way, forty non-Annex I countries ranked higher on the Human Development Index in 2007 than the lowest ranked Annex I country. So major GHG emitters/economies (whether developed or developing countries), which are responsible for historic, current and future emissions, should therefore be the ones to take action.
As of 2000, the top 25 GHG emitters accounted for approximately 83 per cent of global emissions. Moreover, the top five GHG emitters today (China, U.S., the EU – treated as a single entity – India, and Russia) were responsible in 2000 for over 60 per cent of global emissions. By contrast, most of the remaining countries contributed very little in absolute terms to GHGs in the atmosphere (i.e., the 140 least-pollutant countries were responsible for only 10 per cent of global GHG emissions). These countries include the least-developed countries and many small island states.
Dealing with the challenge of climate change requires concerted international action supported by an effective international climate regime, with a global institutional framework for coordinating national climate policies. The current impasse in international climate negotiations on a post-Kyoto climate agreement calls for a reconsideration of the basic canons of global climate protection, and facilitation of international climate policy with new instruments. While the UNFCCC has its merits of serving as an international forum for the negotiation of solutions to climate change, the UN-led climate negotiations reveal serious drawbacks of a top-down approach to the international climate regime and the ineffectiveness of a consensus-based system. The international climate change negotiation process is heavily hindered by the large number of participating countries with diverse interests and different expectations from the outcome, reliant on their level of economic development and the dependency of their economies on fossil fuels.
The main challenge of the international climate regime is how to accommodate diverse international interests, especially those countries whose participation is crucial to the success of climate protection – i.e. the largest GHG emitters in the world. These concerns require a new complex architecture of the global climate regime with flexible economic mechanisms and tools that would provide incentives for the largest GHG emitters to participate in emissions abatement and comply with undertaken commitments. Based on the theories of the international regime and global governance, a re-design and institutional framework of global climate protection capable of effectively addressing climate change and its negative consequences is needed.
An Alternative Approach: Bilateral and Regional Agreements
International efforts to negotiate a comprehensive, universal, and legally binding treaty on climate change have “been producing diminishing returns for some time” and an alternative approach to this top-down fashion of law-making is needed “which develops different elements of climate governance in an incremental fashion and embeds them in an international political framework”. At the same time, there are 193 parties to the Kyoto Protocol, many of which are in favour of its continuation. For instance, countries in favour of the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol argue that it is currently the only legal instrument with legally binding constraints on GHG emissions of any sort. The continuation of the Kyoto Protocol could be conceived not in isolation, but along with complementary climate agreements. Bilateral and regional agreements could therefore complement the UNFCCC/Kyoto Protocol. Other smaller fora with major GHG emitters could provide stimulus for an agreement in the UNFCCC regime.
Copenhagen, Cancún, Durban and Beyond
For the creation of a future global climate change agreement, the following fundamental points need to be kept in mind:
1.Assessing the emissions reduction pledges: are they enough?
2.Fast-track finance: what are the sources of finance and what are the targets?
3. Technology diffusion
4. The impact of investments in the energy sector
5. What will the political groupings be in the multilateral agreement on climate action and what will parties ask for?
6. What can be done to facilitate the UN process in the climate change context? Should the climate talks be ‘multi-track’?
7. What are the complementary and supporting routes to an agreement on climate action? The EU presidency? The G-20? Bilateral agreements between major players?
8. Can and will sub-national, national, and regional agreements reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
9. Are there any ‘quick-win’ multipliers for climate action?