‘No new laws expected’ at UN climate convention

International agreements stuck in a ‘rut,’ says member of Israeli delegation to conference now underway in Durban.

November 30, 2011 03:03
4 minute read.

Forest trees environment green 311. (photo credit: Thinkstock)

As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change got underway this week in Durban, South Africa, an expert from the Israeli delegation said she had low expectations for the outcomes of the two-week conference.

Dr. Orr Karassin, lead member of the Jewish National Fund contingent to the Israeli delegation, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that international climate change negotiations have “come to a slump, a rut, which is very, very unfortunate not only for Israel but for all the globe.”

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Karassin is one of four JNF experts in the delegation, which is being led by Environmental Protection Ministry deputy director-general Shulamit Nezer.

According to its website, the convention has been taking place since 1995 and is an inter-governmental effort to address global issues of climate change and enact legislation aimed at reducing the damage it causes.

This year, the 194 participating countries are focusing on implementation and the aftermath of the Kyoto Protocol, which set targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European Union to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of five percent, based on 1990 levels, by 2012.

The protocol is legally binding for “Annex I” countries – the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many European nations. A total of 193 additional parties, including Israel, have ratified it on a voluntary basis. The US has yet to ratify it.

“There has been great aspiration and great hope that most of these large countries will be able to reach a decisive agreement, but at the moment hopes are not high,” said Karassin, a JNF board member and faculty director of the Open University’s sociology and public law departments.

“It’s a complicated issue because there are many different issues holding back negotiations.”

The US is hesitant to commit to the protocol, according to Karassin, in part because many other high-emission nations, like China, India and Indonesia, are not required to abide by it. China has now surpassed the US in percentage of world greenhouse gas emissions by about a percentage point, now emitting 17% of the world’s greenhouse gases, she explained.

“This has been a game of cat and dog for the past 4 years,” she continued. “If there will be a breakdown on this issue then there will be a whole derailment of international negotiations, which means we would not see an international agreement.”

While China voluntarily ratified the protocol, it does not want to be legally bound to following it for economic reasons, according to Karassin.

“China’s economic growth is not only interlinked but is absolutely dependent on energy uses,” she said, noting that Beijing wants the same opportunities for industrialization that Western nations have had.

Other obstacles Karassin expects participants to encounter in the next two weeks, aside from the Kyoto Protocol itself, include the extent to which various agreements need to be made legally binding, as well as ways of funding positive climate measures in individual countries.

During last year’s conference, held in Cancun, members decided to establish an annual $100 billion green climate fund for under-developed nations, although the fund has yet to be implemented.

“We need this international cooperation,” she added, stressing that unilateral action among a few individual countries is not enough. Neither, she said, is collaboration solely by large, developed countries – smaller, developing nations must work to solve climate issues as well.

While not optimistic that this year’s conference will bring about new climate legislation, Nezer, the Israeli delegation head, was much more confident that some progress would be made.

“It is clear that there will not be any new legal agreements from the meeting.... No one expects that to happen. It would be wrong to look at Durban with the same expectations there were two years ago in Copenhagen,” Nezer told the Post, referring to the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, a nonbinding document endorsing the Kyoto Protocol and involving individual country pledges to reduce emissions.

“Nobody expects to have a new deal,” she continued. “If you would like to be realistic about the outcomes of Durban, we should talk about the mechanisms that should occur concerning finance, adaptation and MRV [measurement, reporting and verification].”

Some of the more realistic mechanisms,” she said, will likely include determining which countries will contribute to the $100 billion fund – as well as how much, when, to whom and in what ways.

Meanwhile, Nezer said she expected the participants to approve an Adaptation Committee suggested at last year’s meeting that would be able to allocate projects to specific developing nations. She felt that participants would come to an agreement on the measurement, reporting and verification portions of the Copenhagen Accord, which would allow for more transparency in reviewing whether countries are sticking to their pledges.

“The principle was agreed upon in Copenhagen, but in order to put it into action the countries have to agree how they will make it happen,” she said, expressing confidence that this would occur at Durban.

While Israel “is not a huge player in this” due to its size and regional isolation, Karassin said, the people of Israel do need to support efforts to curb climate change.

“Israel is a very vulnerable country and is situated in an area where we’re always vulnerable to the scarcity of water resources,” the JNF expert said, noting that the country was also susceptible to regional water wars. “Even if we are able to produce water from desalination of the sea, it doesn’t mean we are on an island that has no impact from the countries around us.”

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