US Playing Spoilsport at International Climate Negotiations?

  • Published on September 30th, 2009

Just as it seemed that differences over contentious issues regarding the next climate treaty were ironing out and all parties moving ahead with a common agenda, the developed countries, US in particular, threatened to stall negotiations until developing countries pledge equal emission reduction measures.

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According to new reports, American negotiators demanded that there should be similar mitigation obligations for developed as well developing countries. The demand was strictly against the unanimous decision to draw distinction between capacities of developed and developing nations to reduce carbon emissions taken at the Bali Climate Conference in 2007.

Developing countries, led by India, opposed the demand in one voice and forced the American negotiators to back down.

United States’ stance came as a surprise given that officials from the Obama administration have been in constant talks with various developing countries and that these talks have resulted in many developing countries agreeing to voluntary emission reduction plans. It was that since the carbon output of most developing countries is much less than that of developed countries and that they are not technically and financially equipped to take up bold mitigation measures a clear differentiation between mitigation measures taken up by the two parties.

Contrary to UNFCCC, World Bank Recommendations

The United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change has stated in its report that the developed countries need to play a major role in achieving the ideal goal of reducing global carbon emissions by 25 to 40 percent. The Chairman of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that it would be economically viable for the developing countries to reduce carbon emissions at a rate similar to that required by the developed countries.

The World Bank in a recent report justified India’s stance to refuse mandatory emission reductions as the economical costs could cripple India’s fight against poverty. The report stated that the Indian government is likely to aggressively push for rural electrification and it would be difficult to control the resulting increase in carbon emissions.

It is unreasonable to demand uniform emission reduction targets for all countries. The major share of world’s carbon emissions originate for the developed countries while the developing countries (except China) have smaller carbon footprints. In addition, it would be unfair to force the developing countries to agree to aggressive mitigation measures which could hamper their efforts to improve the standard of living of their people.

Voluntary Emission Reductions

Many developing countries including India, China, Indonesia and South Africa have revealed their intentions to have voluntary and sectoral emission reduction targets for the most polluting industries. The proposed laws would also include measures to improve energy efficiency and conservation of forests.

China has signed deals with the US which would result in increased engagement between the two countries on matters ranging from renewable energy to green buildings. Chinese President recently announced his government’s goal to significantly reduce the energy intensity. China also aims to generate 15 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

India has announced that it is willing to formulate a domestic law aimed at controlling carbon emission output from five of its most polluting industrial sectors. The Indian environment minister announced that the bill would take into account the economics of the whole emission reduction plan and that every major initiative would have to undergo scrutiny of the Parliament. India has also, for the first time, agreed to provide an annual report to the UN about its mitigation measures.

The United States and other developing countries must realize that the developing countries are still quite a few years away from an accelerated transition to clean energy based economy. The developing countries have now agreed to voluntary emission cuts and have also agreed to improve the accountability in the system of reporting and carbon accounting. Thus the developed countries must appreciate the proactive initiatives announced by the developing countries. Significant progress has been made in the negotiations for the next climate treaty and it is very important that new issues are discussed on the foundations of agreements made in the past.

Image: jcolman (Creative Commons)

The views presented in the above article are author’s personal views and do not represent those of TERI/TERI University where the author is currently pursuing a Master’s degree.

About the Author

currently works as Head-News & Data at Climate Connect Limited, a market research and analytics firm in the renewable energy and carbon markets domain. He earned his Master’s in Technology degree from The Energy & Resources Institute in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Mridul has a keen interest in renewable energy sector in India and emerging carbon markets like China and Australia.

4 comments

  • I’m afraid you should do a bit more research before publishing accusatory articles…The hold up was on whether some issues such as finance, capacity building are cross cutting issues that should be considered as a whole. Under the LCA there are two separate groups on mitigation (actions to reduce emissions) one for countries that have commitments (many developed countries), and another for countries that don’t have commitments (developing countries). The US and others were simple proposing that there are some issues on reducing emissions that effect all parties who are trying to reduce emissions and that these are best addressed in one group (rather than duplicating efforts).

    So I’m afraid that the assertion that “the US threatened to stall negotiations until developing countries pledge equal emission reduction measures,” is simply false.

    Neither country backed down, they just decided how they could move forward and address these issues without convening a new subgroup. I would highly advise you revise your post based on these facts. See the daily report of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin:

    “Parties then focused on how to consider proposals related to principles and frameworks for mitigation actions by all parties. The US, supported by AUSTRALIA, JAPAN, the EU, NORWAY and others, proposed creating a separate sub-group on proposals relating to common mitigation elements. INDIA and several others opposed, stressing that such proposals are inconsistent with the Convention as they would impose new requirements on developing countries. The US stressed it would be difficult to move forward on other issues without resolving this subject matter.

    COLOMBIA noted they could agree to the US proposal for a new sub-group but emphasized that the issue of support by developed countries should also be discussed in this context. COSTA RICA supported allocating some time for this discussion to help crystallize the work in other sub-groups and the RUSSIAN FEDERATION said a specific slot on mitigation actions by all countries could help to better understand intentions and aspirations of parties. BRAZIL said it is unclear why specific proposals should receive specific time slots and, for the G-77/CHINA, highlighted that no concepts incompatible with the BAP should be introduced.

    As a way forward, Chair Zammit Cutajar proposed discussing the proposals for the beginning of the mitigation section before discussions on sub-paragraphs 1(b)i and 1(b)ii of the BAP on Tuesday morning in informal consultations.”

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