Over the past two hundred years increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from industrialization have resulted in global warming and climate change. To address the growing concern over global warming, countries gathered in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the first World Earth Summit. The result was an international treaty for addressing climate change [the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)] that introduced many important concepts such as “common but differentiated responsibilities.” When countries realized that the UNFCCC was not rigorous enough, a new legally binding agreement (the Kyoto Protocol) was signed in 1997 and implemented in 2005. At the core of the Kyoto Protocol are legally binding GHG emission reduction targets for developed countries (Annex I). The first round of the Kyoto Protocol ended in December 2012. Within the Kyoto Protocol was the promise of a second round. However, now with the first round of the Kyoto Protocol over and the beginning of the second round, the world’s major polluters that had been a part of the first Kyoto Protocol – Japan, Canada, Russia – decided to not participate. In addition, the United States, which didn’t even participate in the first round, is also not participating in its second one. A major participant of the second round will be the European Union. Yet, its pledge of reducing GHG emissions by 20% is not nearly enough. It is also unclear if the second round of the Kyoto Protocol will end in 2017 or in 2020. If it ends in 2017, it would leave a three year gap where no action takes place before the next international treaty – the Durban Platform which was agreed at the COP 17th – is implemented in 2020. This new international treaty would be different from the Kyoto Protocol because it would include financing for developing countries and it would also force all countries – whether they are developed or developing – to adopt measures that would be legally binding.
COP 19 Outcomes
The COP 19 meeting was supposed to establish “the table of contents” for the Durban Platform, so that the agreement could be signed by 2015 and then implemented in 2020. Two concrete results can be seen to have come out of COP 19: adoption of REDD+ and the introduction of “loss and damage.”
REDD+ is a program which seeks to reduce GHG emissions due to deforestation and forest degradation. Deforestation means deforesting a whole area by cutting down its trees; forest degradation includes such activities as lessening the density of trees. REDD+ is based on the understanding that deforestation and forest degradation lead not only to the release of carbon when trees are burned or when they rot, but also the loss of carbon sinks when these trees that absorb carbon dioxide are cut. While the preservation of forests is crucial, the manner in which REDD+ seeks to do this is problematic. At the root of the problem is placing forest preservation under the markets rather than under government regulation. Given the dearth of funding and the stinginess of developed countries to provide such funding, these programs will likely be funded with private financing. However, depending on private financing is ineffective at best, and at worst it will be destructive for the forests – and then the planet – as well as the forest people that have stewarded and lived in it for millennia.
Private financing for REDD+ would likely be based on the sale of the carbon credits that anti-deforestation and anti-forest degradation projects would produce. However, since there is no real cap in carbon emissions (as mentioned before the current ceiling amount of allowable pollution is not low enough to force people to buy carbon credits), there would be no demand for these carbon credits. Hence, there would be no funding for forest preservation. At its worst, it will lead to the blocking of access and eviction of indigenous forest people to and from forests, while placing the fate of the forests (and the earth) in the hands of financial speculators that would set the value of forest preservation. High carbon credit prices would mean an acceleration of these projects. Low carbon credit prices (such as when the second round of the Kyoto Protocol was effectively gutted) would mean increased carbon emissions since companies could continue polluting by buying these cheap carbon credits; and little funds to developing countries that have set-up these carbon credit producing projects. There are also problems in implementation as implementing a system of measuring and verifying carbon emissions reductions is very costly. Ultimately, mitigating climate change needs to be achieved by forcing developed countries that have the greatest historical responsibility for global warming (GHG emissions are cumulative) to reduce their polluting and stopping deforestation and forest degradation through regulation and through the guarantee of collective rights for indigenous forest people.
The second outcome from COP 19 was the introduction of “loss and damage” under adaptation. To understand loss and damage, it’s important to understand its relation to mitigation and adaptation. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is still the overriding goal of the UNFCCC, but even if the world enacted very strict reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, there is still an overabundance of greenhouse gasses from past pollution. It would take time for these excess greenhouse gases to be reabsorbed. During that time the earth would still feel the climate change impacts of global warming. “Adaptation” refers to the preventative measures (e.g. higher sea walls) to absorb or deflect the impacts of such climate change. However, even these adaptation measures are sometimes not enough to shield from the “loss and damage” brought upon by climate change. Hurricane Haiyan demonstrated the limits of adaptation in fully absorbing and/or deflecting climate change related natural disasters. Loss and damage was introduced in COP 19 for these instances when adaptation is not enough. An agreement was reached despite controversy between the developing and developed countries: the developing countries argued that loss and damage should be separate from adaptation since it is conceptually (not preparatory measures but restorative measures post-destruction) and methodologically different (the immediacy of rescue and reconstruction efforts immediately after a natural disaster like Hurricane Haiyan are different from preparatory measures such as higher sea walls); developed countries argued it should be included under adaptation. The agreement included loss and damage under adaptation with the note that its needs might sometimes exceed adaptation. A promise of review two years after its implementation was also included.
Two issues that remained unresolved at COP 19 were whether or not there would be a distinction between developed and developing countries regarding emissions reductions targets and how the 100 billion dollars/year promised by the developed countries would be funded. Developing countries claimed that since the Durban Platform is under the UNFCCC, the distinction between the responsibilities of developed (i.e. Annex I countries) and developing (i.e. non-Annex I countries) countries remained; developed countries claimed that the establishment of the Durban Platform effectively eliminated such distinction. Secondly, developing and developed countries disagreed on how to achieve the 100 billion dollars/year starting 2020 promised by the developed countries. Developing countries wanted the funding to come solely from the government – due to their belief that private funding would come with conditions. On the other hand, the US wanted the government funds to go to lesser developed countries and for the mid/high income developing countries to receive private financing. In addition, developing countries demanded a roadmap to this 2020 goal for funding, proposing that 70 billion dollars/year be raised by 2016. Developed countries rejected the proposal. Discussions concluded with no roadmap or pledges for funding just promises of more discussions and reports.
What is next after COP 19? COP 20 in Peru will flesh out the details of the Durban Platform. A work plan for loss and damage will be completed and its effectiveness will be evaluated (two years later) at COP 22. COP 21 in Paris will sign the Durban Platform with its implementation take place starting 2020.