(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
On November 28th, the 17th United Nations Climate Change Conference opened in Durban, South Africa. Two years ago, negotiations over a new worldwide agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions “rolled over and died” at the Copenhagen Conference, and attempts were made to revive them at last year's conference in Cancun. This year, the Durban Conference must now try to “stabilize the patient’s condition.” In the meantime, fewer than twelve months remain until the previous agreement, known as the Kyoto Protocol, runs out. Despite all this, the impression is that the countries that hold the key to remedying the situation are not feeling the sense of urgency necessary to spur them to cooperate and sign the agreement required to stabilize the rise in temperature which is projected at a maximum of two degrees over the next hundred years. Today there is a broad consensus that an inability to meet this target will have disastrous effects worldwide.
This year, too, a KKL-JNF delegation is attending the UN conference, as part of the official Israeli delegation. This is in accordance with KKL-JNF’s policy of sharing its knowledge and experience for the general good of mankind, with regards to three major areas that will be discussed at the conference:
1. Afforestation in Arid and Semi-Arid Areas in Response to Climate Change & Desertification
2. Watershed Management
3. Biological Control Methods
Joining this year's KKL-JNF delegation are Dr. Orr Karassin, head of the KKL-JNF delegation to the UN Climate Change Conference, and an expert on climate change policy; Mr. Itzik Moshe, Deputy Director of KKL-JNF's Southern Region; Mr. David Brand, KKL-JNF Head Forester and Research Director; and Ms. Karine Bolton, Director of International Relations at KKL-JNF.
The Durban conference is not expected to lead to a final agreement that will replace the Kyoto Protocol, but the participants hope that it will pave the way for a binding agreement for 2015-2020. For this to happen, solutions will have to be found for some of the main points of contention scheduled to be discussed at the conference, including:
1. The Future of the Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol, which was signed in Japan in 1997 and came into force in 2005, established for the first time binding reduction targets for 37 countries defined as “developed.” These countries were to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions by an average of 5% as compared with 1990 levels, over the period between 2008 and 2012.
However, a number of the major players in the “emissions arena,” i.e., the world carbon market, were not included among the countries bound by the Protocol’s demand for a significant reduction in emissions. China, which since 2005 has become the world’s greatest emitter (and which is responsible for 17% of emissions worldwide) is not subject to binding emission-reduction demands; neither is Indonesia, which produces 6% of emissions worldwide, nor India (5% of global emissions).
As the Kyoto Protocol is about to expire, developed nations have been scurrying around ever since the Bali Conference in an attempt to renew the agreement and to seize the opportunity to include the USA (responsible for 16% of global emissions), which refused to sign the Protocol at the time and continues to present a significant stumbling block in negotiations. It is therefore not surprising that prior to the Durban Conference, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, described the five obstacles to the achievement of a binding agreement as “the USA, the USA, the USA, the USA and the USA.” The United States is leading the developed nations’ nations' demand for certain developing countries to be included in any such agreement, which will for the first time define binding emission-reduction targets for a number of countries whose economies are flourishing, such as China, Brazil, South Africa and India, which, in the period since the Kyoto Protocol was signed, has become a major emitter.
2. The Status and legal validity of the commitments
This issue includes question of the legal status of the commitments under
discussion. While the European Union will insist on a legally binding agreement complete with control mechanisms, supervision and sanctions against countries that have not fulfilled their obligations, most of the swiftly-developing countries, while demanding binding commitments from the developed nations, are refusing to respond in kind and assume similar obligations themselves. This turmoil is further aggravated by the US, which at present is preventing the creation of any legally binding formula, because of its justifiable fear that such an agreement would not receive Congressional approval; this position is not expected to change at the Durban Conference.
3. Funding climate change adaptation and emissions reduction
While the binding legal aspects of the agreement are under siege by the Americans, there has been a certain degree of progress since the Cancun Conference with regard to formulating complementary arrangements for the funding of operations relating to emissions reduction and adaptation to climate change. The Cancun Conference agreement on the establishment of the Green Climate Fund is particularly worthy of note: this fund is to raise and distribute 100 billion dollars in aid to developing countries every year. However, it is not only with us, but by the UN as well, decisions are one thing and actions are another. So far no agreement has been reached with regard either to the fund’s management mechanisms, or more importantly, to its sources of funding. These last points require discussion over disputed issues such as who will bear the burden of the funding, and what portion will be borne by the private sector.
If we are looking for a glimmer of optimism as the 17th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change gets underway, we may grasp at the hope that attempts to reach an agreement regarding the establishment of the Green Climate Fund will progress more swiftly than issues in other channels. If this is indeed the case, it will facilitate the provision of funding so vital to many developing countries that are crying out for help in dealing with the damage caused by climate change. If this takes place in Durban, we shall witness a transition in global policy on climate change, from responsibility (for reducing emissions) to obligation (to pay compensation for damage caused by climate change). This transition, in itself, does not bode well.
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