Session of the United Nations climate negotiations October 2 in Panama City. Source: International Institute for Sustainable Development

Session of the United Nations climate negotiations October 2 in Panama City. Source: International Institute for Sustainable Development

Panama is only a short hop from the Caribbean islands now home to Worldwatch Institute’s Low-Carbon Energy Roadmaps project. But, it’s a big leap from the national renewable energy strategies being developed in the Caribbean to the tense efforts just wrapping up in Panama City to agree on global climate change reduction goals.

The Panama meetings from October 1-7 marked the final preparatory negotiation before the next United Nations climate change summit convenes in Durban, South Africa from November 28-December 10. With many issues on the negotiating table, countries made surprising progress on providing funding for climate change solutions, especially in developing countries. Countries also pushed big issues like a new global climate agreement and the next stage of the Kyoto Protocol onto an already overflowing agenda for Durban.

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The Kyoto Protocol (KP) still sits in troubled waters, as three of its signatory countries threaten to jump ship on its continuation beyond 2012

(Photo: The Adopt a Negotiator Project) The Kyoto Protocol (KP) still sits in troubled waters, as three of its signatory countries threaten to jump ship on its continuation beyond 2012.

Governments just finished another round of negotiations in Bonn, Germany under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. If the international climate talks are a ship, the last two weeks’ voyage saw equal parts clear sailing, stormy seas, and listless drifting, as nations advanced toward agreements on addressing ocean carbon storage and clean technology transfer, fought over the future of the Kyoto Protocol, and wasted nearly three days just trying to agree on the agenda for parts of the meeting.

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Person walking up long path


The most recent negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change just concluded in Bangkok, Thailand. While some progress toward international climate change action was achieved, the talks were full of mostly minor diplomatic victories on procedural and scheduling issues. Big questions, especially the fate of the Kyoto Protocol and a new global climate agreement, remain unanswered. Meanwhile, worldwide carbon pollution continues to rise.

The Bangkok negotiations lasted from April 3—8 and marked the first session of the 2011 global climate meetings. Governments spent most of their time trying to agree on a schedule of what to decide on in 2011 meetings. So, if you thought climate talks already had been tough to follow, try listening to negotiators negotiate about what they are going to negotiate about later. On the final day, countries ultimately agreed on a workplan for the rest of the year. The two key areas of work are: figuring out if and how to keep the current Kyoto Protocol alive; and continuing to develop a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, one that will involve a larger range of countries cutting their climate pollution.

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In 2007, the European Union (EU) adopted its integrated approach to climate and energy policy. By 2020, the region aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent below 1990 levels, to generate 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and to improve energy efficiency by 20 percent. While the EU is on track to meet or exceed its goals in the first two categories, it is set to miss its energy efficiency target and is poised to reduce its energy consumption by only 9 percent.

Maybe they should try more double paned windows

Under current EU rules, energy efficiency is the only energy and climate target that is not legally binding. Despite the forecasted shortfall, two weeks ago Europe’s heads of state shied away from taking decisive action on energy efficiency and announced a review of the region’s energy savings plan in 2013 at the earliest. European leaders said they did not want to place additional constraints on their economic policy during a period of economic crisis.

What explains the difference in success rates among the EU targets? Critics contend that the lack of enforceability is to blame for the region’s shortcomings in energy efficiency. A closer look at the EU’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, however, reveals that binding targets alone may not be sufficient to reach energy-efficiency goals.

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EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard

EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, image courtesy of the International Institute for Sustainable Development

The European Environment Agency (EEA) yesterday released its greenhouse gas inventory for 2008, showing a two-percent fall from 2007 levels across EU-27 countries and an 11.3-percent reduction from 1990 levels. The new data also show that the EU-15 (the 15 only EU members in 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated) have reduced emissions by 6.9 percent since 1990, putting those countries on track to meet their Kyoto Protocol commitment of reducing 2008-2012 emissions by an average of 8-percent below 1990 levels. The European Commission points out that the EU-15 emission reduction—a 1.9-percent drop from 2007 to 2008—came as the region’s economy grew 0.6 percent, suggesting that economic growth and emissions cuts can be compatible.

Just last month, the European Commission had announced that emissions covered under the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) fell even more rapidly: verified emissions from covered installations were 11.6-percent lower last year than in 2008. EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard cautioned that these reductions are largely due to the economic crisis, as opposed to ambitious actions by covered industry. The crisis has also weakened price signals in the trading scheme and slowed business investment in emissions-reducing innovations.

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We’ve heard a lot in recent months about India’s international positioning on climate change, but what is opinion like at home? Is everyone in agreement with the formal government position? And what is the key to stronger Indian engagement with the international climate regime? A working paper [PDF] on this subject was recently released by Navroz Dubash, a Senior Fellow at India’s Centre for Policy Research. It looks not only at the state of opinion within India’s government, corporations and civil society on how India should respond to the climate challenge, but also proffers that what is most needed in advance of the negotiations in Copenhagen is to build trust.

Dubash suggests that there is broad domestic agreement in India on three key points. Firstly, that India is being unfairly labelled a major emitter by the international community, secondly, that India has an ongoing and considerable development challenge, and thirdly, that India is moving in the right direction climate change mitigation is concerned. ”Climate diplomats from other countries would do well to recognize this reality,” says Dubash.

However, he also argues that opinion is far more divided at home around how India should respond to the climate challenge, with three major streams of opinion characterizing the debate. He describes as Growth First Stonewallers those who, frequently sceptical of the science, believe that pressures to respond to climate change are primarily a strategy employed by industrialized nations to keep emerging economies such as India and China at bay. As such, these pressures are a threat to Indian interests. Stonewallers, according to Dubash, see addressing climate change as less important than India’s economic development.

The second are Progressive Realists. These Realists recognise that climate change poses a significant threat to India, but are deeply skeptical of the international process as a fair or effective way to address the climate problem. Seeing pressure on developing countries primarily as an attempt by industrialized countries to shift the burden of action away from their shores, they are resigned to focus on domestic climate change action through clean development efforts resulting in climate ”co-benefits,” while at the same time avoiding the ”obligations and constraints of an international regime.” Dubash describes this as India’s increasingly predominant position, with a shift from its former Stonewaller center of gravity.

Finally, Dubash highlights a ”small but increasingly vocal group” of Progressive Internationalists. Although in agreement with India’s Realists that the rich world is using India as an excuse for inaction and that equity must be paramount within any global climate change agreement, these Internationalists are of the opinion that India should work with, not separately from the global policy regime, aligning its efforts at home to facilitate and condition a stronger global deal. They argue, that a weak global climate deal resulting in weak action on climate change will result in greater inequities for the poor in the future, who will be the first to suffer the impacts of climate change and who are primarily located in developing countries. These Internationalists, describes Dubash, are in the distinct minority and perceived by most in India as naïve. Fears abound that a more concerted engagement from India with the international regime will result in greater constraints on India but little change in global dynamics and commitments.

Recent political developments in Bangkok have done little to allay these fears, with reports of a new proposal from some industrialised nations to scrap the Kyoto Protocol. Dubash argues that a split between India’s progressive thinkers driven by different opinions on the international climate regime is weakening India’s ability to respond to climate change. To bring these groups together, a far more progressive approach to the international negotiations will be required from all countries with trust building and signals of good faith an essential factor. ”A renewed Indian climate politics…will require far stronger signals of good faith from the international community, and industrialized countries in particular,” says Dubash in his paper, going on to elaborate what this would imply.

For a full recount of this insightful overview, please see the full paper.

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