By Gerard Wynn
LONDON, Sept 24 Major developing countries have
dampened prospects for agreement on international carbon
emissions reduction targets by insisting on distinguishing
between the responsibilities of industrialised and emerging
economies to act on climate change beyond 2020.
At a meeting in Durban, South Africa, last December,
ministers agreed to negotiate a deal, for implementation from
2020, in which all countries participated, boosting prospects
for agreement on medium-term climate targets.
Those U.N.-backed negotiations are the world's main
multilateral process for agreeing carbon cuts and can help guide
choices in global energy consumption and ambition in emissions
markets. So far they have fallen short.
The Durban meeting seemed to overcome a division that has
long threatened U.S. participation.
The United States has complained that its main economic
rival, China, as well as other major emerging economies, have
escaped binding targets of any kind under the U.N. negotiations,
after a Climate Convention in 1992 divided the responsibilities
of Annex 1 (developed) and non-Annex 1 (developing) countries.
Last December, countries agreed a 2-page "Durban Platform
for Enhanced Action" which appeared to sweep aside the
dichotomy, making no reference to formally divided
responsibilities and so appearing to launch a fresh era in
However, on Friday, ministers from Brazil, South Africa,
India and China (dubbed "BASIC" countries, in U.N. climate
jargon) said any deal must explicitly distinguish action between
industrialised and emerging economies and by implication between
the United States and China, the world's top two emitters,
appearing to put negotiations back at least one year.
Annual and cumulative CO2 emissions (Columbia University):
"BASIC" statement (Sept 21):
The division between emerging and industrialised countries
originates from Article 3 of the 1992 Climate Convention.
"The Parties should protect the climate system ... on the
basis of equity and in accordance with their common but
differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.
Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the
lead," it said.
The Convention is the umbrella treaty for the subsequent
1997 Kyoto Protocol which required only Annex 1 (developed)
countries to cut and report their emissions.
China, the world's top emitter, has not reported its annual
output of greenhouse gases since 1994.
The exclusive focus on developed country action was the
central reason why the U.S. Senate did not ratify Kyoto.
The Durban agreement in December appeared to put an end to
that division, when countries agreed "to launch a process to
develop a protocol, another legal instrument or a legal outcome
under the Convention applicable to all Parties".
The agreement made no mention of Annex 1 or non-Annex 1
countries, nor of "common but differentiated responsibilities".
"The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action calls for a
comprehensive legal regime by 2020 that essentially eliminates
the Annex I versus non-Annex I distinction," said Harvard
University policy experts Joseph Aldy and Robert Stavins in an
article published in the Aug. 31 edition of the journal Science.
"This is a significant departure from the past. It is of
vast potential importance, but only 'potential'."
That latter caution was justified. The "BASIC" statement
late on Friday said that a rigid separation should persist.
The statement summarised the outcome of a meeting in
Brasilia involving Brazil's foreign minister, the vice minister
of China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC),
South Africa's minister of water and environmental affairs and
India's ambassador to Brazil.
"They recognised that all countries should participate in an
enhanced global effort to be implemented after 2020, under the
U.N. framework convention on climate change, which would respect
the principles of equity and common but differentiated
responsibilities and differentiation between Annex I and
non-Annex I Parties," the statement said.
"Ministers stressed that the institutional architecture
built on the basis of (past) decisions ... will continue to
function in the post-2020 period," it added.
It makes sense to calculate the ambition of countries in
cutting carbon emissions according to wealth and greenhouse gas
emissions, but not in rigid categories nearly three decades old
by the time a deal takes effect.
China overtook the United States as the world's top emitter
in 2006 or 2007, from less than half U.S. emissions in 1992, the
year of the original U.N. climate convention.
However, carbon dioxide is a long-lived greenhouse gas,
remaining in the atmosphere for up to several centuries, meaning
it makes sense to view cumulative rather than annual emissions.
Energy data suggest that cumulative U.S. emissions of CO2
since 1900 are still more than double those of China.
But China is catching up: it now exceeds the United States
in cumulative energy-related CO2 emissions over the past decade,
from 2002-2011, at 64.5 billion tonnes compared with 62.9
billion, data from the oil company BP show.
Another measure for ambition to cut emissions is per capita
national income (GDP).
World Bank data show that U.S. per capita GDP in constant
international dollars was 24 times that of China in 1992,
narrowing to six times last year.
Such data suggest that the United States has an imperative
to do more to cut carbon emissions under a multilateral
agreement after 2020, but China is unhelpful clinging to Annex 1
/ non-Annex 1 boxes.
The BASIC rhetoric will perpetuate suspicion between the
world's top two emitters and make multilateral targets elusive.
The alternative is unilateral action such as the EU's plan
to impose carbon tariffs on flights entering and leaving Europe,
which has drawn general opposition from other major economies.
The next U.N. climate meeting in Doha, Qatar, from Nov. 26
to Dec. 7, will have a tough job to keep the peace.