Opinion / Web Comments

Developing countries must take lead in emissions rules

By Mukul Sanwal (chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2012-12-17 21:08

The most significant outcome of Doha was to formally begin the process of negotiating a new climate agreement. The requirement now is to ensure "the highest possible mitigation efforts by all parties" for "aggregate emission pathways consistent with having a likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees C or 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels". But given present emissions, 6 degrees C is more likely by the end of the century, as all countries want others to bear the burden, and clearly a very different framework is needed.

The defining feature of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was the allocation of efforts to combat climate change on the basis of per-capita income. Developed countries were listed in an annex to the convention, and the central feature of the ongoing negotiations over 20 years has been the efforts of developed countries to end this differentiation.

In this time, the developing countries' primary focus was on the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities" focused on short-term needs of implementation, like finance, technology and market mechanisms, rather than allocation of effort between the designated groups of countries. For example, even in Durban in 2011, in the context of maintaining the differentiation, the developing countries pushed for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol without identifying emissions targets for developed countries required by science. There is still no common understanding of an "equitable" approach to climate policy, as different countries emphasise "differentiated responsibilities", "common responsibilities" and "respective capabilities", leading to continuing north-south tension.

Climate policy outside the UNFCCC has also been driven by the United States, which viewed the Kyoto Protocol with its emission reduction commitments only for developed countries as a "dichotomous" distinction as incomes and emissions continued to rise in many countries considered to be developing countries, reflecting the general pace of global economic growth.

The United States re-engaged in the climate negotiations by convening the Major Economies Forum, and in July 2009, leaders of 17 developed and developing countries agreed that "peaking of global emissions should take place as soon as possible", with large developing countries recognizing the need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions over a longer time span than the others. This was formalized in the Copenhagen Accord (2009) and Cancun Agreements (2010), blurring the distinction between countries established on the basis of per-capita incomes. Some distinction remained in the nature of the measures or actions, with developed countries alone required to make economywide reductions, and this was also removed at Durban, in 2011.

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