Between Hope and Despair
While finding solutions to the plethora of problems created by climate change is a key global issue, the stalemate between rich and poor nations continues to prevent the world from catching the bull by the horns.
From Indonesia’s Tsunami to Haiti’s hurricane, from Pakistan’s floods to Japan’s earthquake, the world has witnessed its share of record breaking natural disasters in recent times. While recovering from the outcomes of these destructive events, it would be rather deplorable to say that disasters of this nature will be more frequent in the near future. The ever increasing inconsistent weather behaviors, diminution in freshwater supply, alterations in agricultural patterns, droughts and loss of biodiversity are obvious effects of global climate change.
Considerable efforts have been in progress to counter the impact of
global warming. Participation of a large number of states and involvement of the United Nations in the process reflects the seriousness of the issue. However, concrete solutions are yet to be achieved. So far the most effective endeavor has been the Kyoto Protocol that has held most developed countries to a set of legally binding commitments for the reduction of green house emissions, which is due to expire in late 2012. To keep the Kyoto Protocol intact, an agreement is needed at the UN annual summit COP 17 which is due in November this year in Durban, South Africa. Therefore, how to reach consensus and lay foundations for further agreements in COP 17 were the core discussions in the recently held UN Climate Talks in Bangkok.
The first of three UN climate change conferences this year, the Bangkok talks were held from April 3 to 8 and focused on improving the agreement of COP 16 held in Cancun, Mexico last year, so that a successor can be ensured to the Kyoto Protocol. A total of 1,500 individuals from 173 countries participated, including government delegates, representatives from industry, environmental activists, organizations and research institutions, to formulate an international treaty on cutting carbon emissions.
Delegates came with cautious optimism, seeking an implementation on agreements that were reached at Cancun and to pursue comprehensive negotiations. UN executive secretary Christiana Figueres in her inaugural address said, ‘’The full implementation of the Cancun agreements can only become an important step forward for the climate if there’s a responsible and clear way ahead on the Kyoto Protocol.”
The talks kicked off with a dispute over which countries should be required to cut greenhouse gas emissions as per the revised version of the Kyoto Protocol. Vital to the argument was both the United States and China that are excluded from the agreement, despite the fact that the two nations are the world’s biggest polluters. Therefore, the Kyoto Protocol only has an effect on 30 percent of the world’s total emissions annually.
Poor nations, on the other hand, demanded the rich states to agree to a second round of legally binding emission reduction commitments under an updated Kyoto Protocol. Although countries like Japan and Australia have agreed on record to another series of commitments only if all major polluters are also a part of the new agreement. And now with the recent nuclear crisis in Japan, its senior environment ministry officials have indicated that the state may have to reconsider its own objectives for cutting emissions to counter the crisis and post-quake reconstruction.
Primarily, the core issue lies in the fact that developing countries, which include China, did not have to commit to cutting emissions as part of the Kyoto Protocol and they demand to keep it as it is. The United States never endorsed the Kyoto Protocol as developing countries were excluded from the process. It also holds its reservations regarding China which overtook the U.S. in emitting greenhouse emissions and is not signing the pact. Therefore the U.S. has stated repeatedly and assertively that it will not be a part of any legally binding climate treaty until all major economies including China agree to become partners.
This disagreement stirred up frustrated discussions but with little substance throughout the week at the Bangkok talks. Developing countries, though not bound by the Kyoto Pro- tocol, are experiencing immense impacts of climate change. They remain firm in their stance that industrialized nations have been historically responsible for the major greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, these nations should be legally obligated to cut carbon emissions and facilitate poor countries in cutting theirs by providing funding and technology.
Tasneem Essop, leader of the WWF delegation at the talks, said, “We are already feeling the impact of climate change - biodiversity is plummeting, sea levels are rising and droughts are ruining crops. The continued failure to mobilize climate financing is increasingly putting the world’s most vulnerable people and ecosystems in harm’s way.” Therefore, developing nations demanded the extension of the Kyoto Protocol and insisted on including the United States, the only wealthy nation that did not sign on the Protocol. To the contrary, the U.S. and some other rich states mainly focused on this year’s negotiations, pushing modest agreements forward that were achieved last year.
After a much-heated debate,the Bangkok talks concluded with climate change negotiators seemingly agreeing on a common agenda to decrease