This post was written by Jennifer Smokelin.
After one week of discussions at COP 17 in Durban, serious doubt hangs over the future of a new commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period on tackling climate change expires at the end of next year. The other major issue for debate is how to obtain financing to help poorer nations adapt to a warmer planet in an economic environment where the developed world wrestles with sovereign debt problems and a slow economy. Negotiations are not progressing well on this front either.
Regarding the future commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, know that the commitment period for the developed nations to cut emissions by a minimum of five percent is just one clause in the Kyoto Protocol, the companion legislation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Without a new commitment period, the rest of the related agreements remain intact, but do not enforce action on lowering emissions.
A further commitment period is unlikely because the European Union, a large supporter until recently of a new commitment period, has been undermined by the huge strain it is under from a sovereign debt crisis that is threatening to destroy the Euro. It is hoped a credible plan to prop up the Euro will emerge at an EU summit on Friday, which is also the last day of COP 17. But that is likely too late to have any effect at COP 17.
Since it looks like there will be no new agreement to a commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, negotiators are aiming to agree on when Kyoto Protocol parties can agree on new commitments. The EU's aim is for binding and enforceable emission cuts to be agreed to by all parties and to have a deal by 2015 to take effect by 2020 at the latest. (This five year lag period may be ambitious; it took the Kyoto Protocol original commitment period eight years to be ratified and come into force after it was adopted).
China, the world's biggest carbon emitter, has suggested it might sign up to a legally-binding deal to cut emissions after 2020, but it has set conditions. China's conditions include that (1) other big emitters (including US and India) sign up to a legally-binding deal to cut emission; and (2) finance is provided under a Green Climate Fund agreed at talks last year in Cancun, which aims to channel up to $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing nations. In the United States, the second largest global emitter, environmental issues have become a heated argument between Democrats and the Republicans. It was widely supposed going in to Durban that any type of commitment out of the United States before next year's presidential elections was unlikely. Not surprisingly, Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, said China's conditions were not acceptable. But the basis he gave was because the United States would not agreed to any condition on compliance: "no condition of receiving the financing, no trap doors, no Swiss cheese (with holes) kind of agreement." Jonathan Pershing, deputy U.S. climate change envoy, left open the possibility that countries may increase their emission cuts but he noted that the pledges were just made at the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit and codified last year in Cancun, Mexico and that a new one here in Durban was unlikely. However, note that the emission cuts listed in the Cancun Agreements are not binding and enforceable under the Kyoto Protocol.
In sum, although the final resolution remains to be seen, it seems unlikely that COP 17 will yield an agreement on a new commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol or secure significant additional financing to help poorer nations adapt to a warmer planet.