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HomeDOCUMENTSCommittee Reports2010 Annual Session225 STC 10 E bis - CLIMATE CHANGE: POST-COPENHAGEN CHALLENGES

225 STC 10 E bis - CLIMATE CHANGE: POST-COPENHAGEN CHALLENGES

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PIERRE CLAUDE NOLIN (CANADA)
SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR

I.  INTRODUCTION 

II.  THE SCIENCE OF CLIMATE CHANGE 

III.  COPENHAGEN SUMMIT ON GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE 
     A.  FROM KYOTO TO THE COPENHAGEN ACCORD 
     B.  WHAT WAS HOPED FOR AND WHAT WAS ACHIEVED 
     C.  DIFFERING NATIONAL AND REGIONAL PERSPECTIVES 
          1.  The developed countries 
          2.  Developing countries: BASIC 
          3.  Developing countries: the African Group and the Alliance of Small Island States 

IV.  THE POST-COPENHAGEN STRATEGY: PRELIMINARY ASSESSMENT AND RECOMMENDATIONS 

I. INTRODUCTION

1.  The intense climate change negotiations that took place in Copenhagen in December 2009 brought together the top heads of states, ministers and state officials in an attempt to reach a legally binding treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. The Copenhagen Accord was equally described as an absolute failure and lauded as a positive and significant step forward to slowing or reversing the phenomenon of global warming.

2.  The Copenhagen Accord set the goal of limiting the rise of global temperatures by 2ºC, compared with pre-industrial levels; it provided for an increase of financial aid for the developing nations, emissions transparency via international monitoring, and a review of progress by 2015. Perhaps, the most important and positive outcome of the Summit is that its final document was endorsed by all major emitters, including the United States and China.

3.  However, the Copenhagen Accord was taken “note of”, rather than properly adopted by the parties. It is non-binding and does not entail a path towards a legally binding agreement. Moreover, the Accord is incomplete in many areas and achieved much less than what was initially hoped for. It has no long-term global emission reduction target, nor does it establish peaking data for emissions, not even for the developed countries.

4.  The NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and its Science and Technology Committee in particular, has been constantly discussing climate change and its global security implications.  The Assembly has been consistent in its support for a concerted global response to this global challenge. NATO parliamentarians also supported the notion that climate change must occupy an important place on the Alliance’s agenda and be included into the new NATO Strategic Concept. Although the Assembly has adopted several climate changerelated reports and policy recommendations in recent years, the Copenhagen Summit has been a milestone event that requires a fresh look at the new global climate policy landscape. In particular, the Summit raises the question of whether the UN-led climate effort is still viable, or if other – national/bottom-up or regional – approaches provide a more feasible alternative.

5.  Another major recent development is the partial reopening of the scientific debate behind climate change, once seemingly closed by the release of the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The so-called “Climategate”, the scandal involving the leak of conversations between some of the world’s top meteorologists and researchers from the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom (although they were subsequently cleared by a special inquiry panel), made climate change sceptics more vocal in discrediting IPCC’s scientific work. Some of the intercepted e-mails indicated that there were attempts to manipulate or suppress data, which is incompatible with scientific practice. The scandal has become an important factor influencing Copenhagen and post-Copenhagen negotiations. Therefore, this paper will begin with a discussion on the basic scientific premises of the climate challenge.


II.  THE SCIENCE OF CLIMATE CHANGE

6.  The “Climategate”, coupled with the effects of the global economic recession, has undoubtedly reduced the public support for urgent action to tackle global warming. Recent polls indicate that 10-15% of British people switched sides and joined the climate sceptics’ camp.1 According to a 2010 Gallup poll, roughly half of “moderate” Americans believe that the seriousness of the climate challenge is exaggerated, compared with around 35% two years ago2. Several flaws were detected in the 2007 IPCC report, particularly the poorly substantiated claim that the Himalayan glaciers would melt down by 2035. Alternative theories attempting to explain global warming (or absence thereof) are constantly being offered.

7.  However, the science of global warming is more than just the studies of those people who received the Nobel Prize in 2007. Occasional mistakes in these studies cannot negate the 150 years of research by the most reputable scientists, starting with the 19th–century physicists John Tyndall and Svante Arrhenius. The mechanics of the greenhouse effect and the correlation between the levels of CO2 and global temperatures are well–understood and universally accepted. It is known that upon reaching the earth’s surface, solar radiation is converted into heat energy, which emits infrared rays back into space. The molecules of greenhouse gases – water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone – capture some of the infrared radiation, thereby warming up the atmosphere. This effect is central to life on our planet, which would otherwise be unbearably cold.

8.  By analysing tree rings, air bubbles trapped in ice, pinecones, coral reef cores, oceanic sediments and other proxies, scientists found a way to establish how our planet’s average temperature changed over hundreds of thousands of years. They discovered that while the average temperature constantly fluctuated over millennia, causing ice ages and periods of warmth, the current rise is quite unique. This uniqueness is reflected in the renowned “hockey stick” graph, whose upward incline indicates how rapidly temperatures were rising in the 20th century. The reconstruction of trends in greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere (mostly by analysing deep layers of polar ice) unambiguously shows that these trends coincide remarkably with fluctuations of average global temperatures. This conclusion is based on data that has been collected by independent groups of scientists in different parts of the world.  Therefore, the focus of climate sceptics on certain flaws in the milestone 1998 study by Michael Mann and his team is insufficient to prove their point.  There are many other “hockey sticks”.

Figure 1. Evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution -  see word version
(Source: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - NOAA)

9.  The fact that the rise of greenhouse gas concentration translates into warmer temperatures is alarming: the volume of CO2 has increased from 280 parts per million (ppm) in the 18th century, to 380ppm in 2010. Under the current trends, the amount of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere might double in the course of the 21st century, if compared to pre-industrial levels. Back in 1896, Svante Arrhenius calculated that doubling the amount of CO2 would result in an increase in global temperatures of almost 6ºC, an estimate which is still valid today.

10.  Compared to the mid-19th century, our planet is already 0.8ºC warmer (most of the increase occurred during the second half of the 20th century). However, we are still in the initial stages of global warming. The objective of the maximum 2ºC rise by the end of this century is unlikely to be achieved, unless drastic reductions of emissions are implemented. Even if the global economy stopped emitting carbon altogether, the temperatures would still rise for decades and possibly centuries due to the role of the ocean. Currently, global temperatures do not rise as fast as the CO2 concentration as the ocean absorbs and stores almost 80% of all surplus heat. This heat will keep our planet warmer in the foreseeable future. In addition, the world’s natural CO2 absorption capacity will diminish with time, potentially resulting in the acceleration of global warming.

11.  The changing climate is having a significant impact on sea levels because the ocean expands as it gets warmer. The melting of glaciers and continental ice sheets also contributes to rising seas. By analysing ocean sediments and coral reefs, scientists discovered that, for the last several thousand years, the average rate of sea rise was 0.1-0.2mm a year (this natural process is related to the fact that our planet is currently in the inter-Ice Age period). However, in the 20th century the rate increased to 1.5mm per year, and since the 1990s it reached more than 3mm.3 It goes without saying that such a dramatic acceleration of this historic trend is alarming.

12.  Thanks to laser and other modern techniques, we now know that for the last 150 years mountain glaciers have been melting at the rate of 50m per decade. The melting of polar ice caps is more difficult to put into a historic perspective due to the absence of reliable data. Satellite data shows a startling trend of Arctic ice sheets shrinking by 7% per decade. The average depth of Artic ice has also shrunk considerably, from 3.64m in 1980 to less than 2m in 2008. This data covers a period of a mere 30 years, however, and further observation is needed to claim that this trend is not temporary.4 The faster pace of warming in the Arctic is entirely justified scientifically, since shrinking ice caps result in more solar radiation being absorbed by the earth’s surface.

13.  Climate change has a direct impact on precipitation patterns, harvests and flora and fauna. Less directly, it impacts weather events, including hurricanes, floods, draughts and heat waves. A warmer planet essentially means that it has extra energy, which can display itself in various ways, including through more violent storms. It has been established that the number of high intensity cyclones has markedly increased in the second half of the 20th century, coinciding with an acceleration of global warming. Formation of cyclones is a very complex process and not exclusively climate change-driven, but it is widely agreed that climate change will increase the likelihood of such events.

14.  Climate contrarians generally agree that the planet is getting warmer. However, two key premises are being questioned: 1) that the current warming is caused by the greenhouse effect; and 2) that it is man-made.

15.  In terms of the former, contrarians refer to the fact that solar activity has intensified during the course of the 20th century.  However, the models, which are based solely on solar or the earth’s orbital factors, fail to explain the observed historic average temperature trends. Furthermore, the ‘solar theory’ cannot explain the fact that temperatures only increased in the troposphere (the layer closer to the surface), while the stratosphere has become cooler (this is perfectly logical according to the “greenhouse theory”). Ocean warming patterns and the fact that warming is greater over land than over sea also speak in favour of the greenhouse model.

16.  It is also claimed that our planet experienced a similarly warm period around 900-1200 AD, followed by a Little Ice Age in the 16th-18th centuries. However, these fluctuations were regional in nature and did not reflect the global trend. Moreover, the fact that solar and other natural factors certainly influenced climate changes in the past does not disprove the assumption that the current warming is caused mainly by human activity.

17.  Some argue that while the current warming was caused by an increased concentration of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, this increase occurred because of natural factors, such as volcanic eruptions. However, studies show that the volume of CO2 produced by humans burning fossil fuels (about 30 billion tons a year) is 130 times greater than emissions from volcanic activity. The anthropogenic origin of most of the surplus CO2 is evident from isotope analysis. It is also argued that water vapour, not CO2, is the most prevalent greenhouse gas.  However, the higher concentration of water vapour in the atmosphere is, in fact, a result of warmer temperatures, not the original cause of it.5 Solar and other natural factors certainly do play a role and are included in all major climate models, but their impact most likely accounts for less than 10% of the overall impact.6

18.  Climate change is certainly a phenomenon that is not yet entirely understood by scientists.  A number of uncertainties still need to be addressed, including the role of clouds, aerosols, cosmic rays, methane emissions and the weakening of the oceanic thermohaline circulation. Nevertheless, the key findings of the 2007 IPCC report remain valid and climate change represents a challenge that requires urgent and concerted international action.


III. COPENHAGEN SUMMIT ON GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE

A. FROM KYOTO TO THE COPENHAGEN ACCORD

19.  The Copenhagen talks took place as part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The stated aim of the UNFCCC was to stabilise the levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, which could possibly cause anthropogenic interference with the climate system. These aims were established as part of the Kyoto Protocol that was signed in 1997 and came into effect in 2005. The first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, therefore a fresh round of negotiations is now crucial for a new treaty that would be more all-encompassing than the Kyoto Protocol.

20.  Being the only legally binding climate agreement ever signed by a limited number of countries, the future of the Kyoto Protocol stirred much controversy and disagreement among the participant countries. The targets for greenhouse gas emission cuts, as set in the Kyoto Protocol, applied only to a small set of developed countries, exempting the developing countries, among which were China and India whose emissions have risen sharply since the Kyoto Protocol was signed; China’s emissions, for instance, have more than doubled since 2000, surpassing even the United States. More significantly, the Kyoto Protocol was never signed by the United States on the grounds that the 5% reduction of emissions, as required by the Protocol, would “wreck the American economy”, whilst freeing the developing countries from any obligations.

21.  The Copenhagen Summit represented an opportunity to rectify the shortfalls of the previous climate change arrangements. One of the issues was the legal form of the agreement, i.e. if the new agreement should represent an extension of the Kyoto Protocol with increased commitments by the developed countries, or if a completely new agreement should be concluded. The heart of the discussion included the burden sharing between the developed and developing nations, in terms of both finances and emission level cuts. The main argument put forward by the developing countries, led by China and India, is that the developed, industrialised nations should bear the historic responsibility for the climate changes and commit themselves to deeper carbon emission cuts before expecting the poor nations and China to implement measures that would jeopardise their economic growth. Thus, the developing countries essentially tried to retain the Kyoto Protocol’s principle of “common but differentiated responsibility”.

22.  At the same time, many American politicians warned about the danger of concluding a poorly designed agreement, whereby the developed countries would bear a burden that has little impact on the fight against global climate change. In other words, any commitments that developed countries undertake will still have to be complemented with efforts undertaken by the developing nations and, in particular, China and India.  Since 1990, carbon emissions from these two economies have risen steeply, making China the world’s largest emitter. Therefore, all efforts by the developed countries will be offset, if the developing countries do not undertake similar actions and continue with the same pace of carbon-intensive industrialisation.

23.  A number of ideas were put forward by individual countries, international organisations and the expert community on key elements of the post-Kyoto framework. For its part, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly suggested the following principles:

1. universal membership (bringing in the United States and Australia is vital);
2. emission reduction targets for all countries, not just for the industrialised world;
3. deeper emission cuts in the post-Kyoto framework for the industrialised nations;
4. industrialised nations have to achieve greater progress in reducing emissions domestically, instead of relying too much on acquiring credits through “flexible mechanisms”;
5. new initiatives are needed to help the communities that are already at risk;
6. encouraging further investment in “green” technologies, particularly renewables, carbon capture and storage; and
7. launching new energy efficiency initiatives.

B. WHAT WAS HOPED FOR AND WHAT WAS ACHIEVED

24.  The Assembly’s position essentially coincided with that of the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer, who has listed four essentials to a new treaty. These four issues were the main points of discussion during the Copenhagen Summit:

1. By how much are the industrialised countries willing to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases?
2. By how far are the major developing countries such as China and India willing to go to limit the growth of their emissions?
3. By how far is the help needed by developing countries to engage in reducing their emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change going to be financed?
4. By how is that money going to be managed?

25.  In the context of changing US leadership, hopes ran high that the final outcome of the Copenhagen Summit would lead to a legally binding treaty entailing collective commitment to deeper emission cuts to hold the temperature rise to 2ºC, or possibly even to 1.5ºC. A draft proposal listed by the host country, Denmark, stated that the world greenhouse gas emissions should drop by 50% by 2050 from the 1990 levels, and the overwhelming responsibility for gas reduction should be undertaken by the developed countries. Nonetheless, to the great disappointment of the developing countries and environmentalists, the Copenhagen Summit closed with a rather weak and non-binding agreement that seeks to limit temperature rises but does not include specific emission targets.

26.  The Accord’s key achievement is the commitment to reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions in order to maintain the 2ºC benchmark. However, the terminology used in the Accord does not identify this goal as a formal target. Instead, it simply notes that the Summit “recognizing the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees celsius”.7

27.  Also, the Accord does not clearly identify a year when the global carbon emissions should peak. This point was contentiously debated during the Summit.  The setting of a global target date for emission cuts was outwardly rejected by China, India, Brazil and South Africa. The argument put forward by the South African’s chief climate negotiator Alf Wills was that the developed nations must do much more to immediately reduce their emissions before they set global targets.8 For this reason, the Accord only states that the carbon emissions should peak as soon as possible, recognising that the peaking will need a longer time frame for the developing nations.9

28.  The 1st of February 2010 was the deadline by which countries were asked to submit their declarations to pledge to curb carbon emissions by 2020. Nonetheless, this deal did not include penalties for countries that did not submit targets by the set date or those which fall short of meeting their targets. Fifty-five countries, responsible for 80% of global emissions, including the United States, China and India, met this 1st February deadline.

29.  The second key issue agreed upon in the deal was that, between 2010 and 2012, US$30billion would be provided by the developed nations to the developing nations, and a projected US$100billion would be mobilised annually by 2020. Such funding will be directed to projects that tackle climate change mitigation and deforestation, and will come from various public, private, multilateral and bilateral sources.

30.  On the negative side, the agreement never envisaged how these additional funds will be raised and how the financial burden sharing will be divided among the developed nations. Furthermore, it was not clarified how the developing nations could access the funds. The governance structure of the overseeing body, the new Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, was also not settled.

31.  The governance structure and mechanisms were also only partially approved. Besides the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, the mechanisms which participating governments agreed to establish included: the Technology Mechanism (to accelerate technological development and transfer in support of action on adaptation and mitigation which will be guided by a country-driven approach and which will be based on national circumstances and priorities, and the Mechanism for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).

32.  More importantly, the Agreement states that all internationally funded climate change mitigation actions undertaken by the developing countries, will be subject to international Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV). Mitigation measures which are not internationally funded will be subject to national reporting every two years. The developed countries’ mitigation actions will also undergo international MRV.

33.  The MRV measures, however, cannot be applied if mitigation actions are not internationally funded. The downside of this is that many non-internationally funded actions by wealthier developing nations, such as China, will not be subject to international scrutiny. Also, the function and nature of the Technology Mechanism, the REDD Mechanism or the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund are not clearly defined.10

34.  It was agreed that the progress review to assess implementation of the Copenhagen Agreement would take place in 2015. The review is set to take place almost a year and a half after the IPCC drafts the next scientific assessment of global climate change.

C. DIFFERING NATIONAL AND REGIONAL PERSPECTIVES

35.  The main divisions during the negotiations at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit were between the developed and developing countries. However, other nations also established official blocks, from which they could strengthen their negotiating position.

1. The developed countries

36.  The European Union attempted to act as a unified entity at the Copenhagen Summit, making a commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, in comparison to the 1990 levels. It also later committed to reducing its emissions by an additional 30%, if the other industrialised countries would undertake the same obligation. However, it was widely believed that the EU’s role in negotiations was reduced to that of a secondary player and that the Copenhagen Accord was essentially a deal between the United States and the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries. The EU is the undisputed global leader in terms of environmental awareness and readiness to impose rigorous emission reduction targets, which makes it a non-problematic – but, paradoxically, also less relevant – negotiating partner.

37.  The other non-EU industrialised nations, also known as the Umbrella Group, include the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Iceland.  The pivotal player in this group is the United States, and its behaviour was carefully observed, owing to the fact that the United States, as the biggest per capita global emitter, refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The commitment made by the United States under the Copenhagen Accord was to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by around 17% by 2020, compared with 2005. This is also contingent upon the Congress ratifying climate change and energy security legislation.11 The further greenhouse gas reductions envisaged by 2025 are to amount to 30%, and 83% by 2050.

38.  Japan’s targets for carbon reduction are 25% by 2020, in comparison to 1990, only on the condition that all major countries follow suit.  The Australian Parliament already twice rejected a bill introducing an emissions trading scheme, which would help to reduce the country’s carbon output by between 5% and 25% of 2000 levels by 2020. Therefore, the Australian government has to look for other ways to meet this target.

39.  Canada has planned a gas emission cut of 20% by 2020 compared to 2006, which is equal to a 3% drop in comparison to the 1990 benchmark. The Canadian Parliament has passed a nonbinding decision for a 25% cut, compared to 1990 emissions levels, whilst Quebec decided to stick to the EU’s position.12

40.  Dmitry Medvedev committed Russia to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by between 22 and 25% by 2020, from the 1990 levels, thus raising the 15% target. These numbers are still not officially confirmed and are on condition that the United States, China and others follow suit. Nonetheless, despite the general Russian scepticism on climate change, Dmitry Medvedev promised to contribute around US$200million to a multi-billion fund to assist projects directed to the reduction of greenhouse gas output of poor countries’.

2. Developing countries: BASIC

41.  The G77 and China block, comprising 130 developing countries, maintains that the industrialised countries should greatly decrease their emissions, whilst allowing G77 and China to continue developing their industries. Additionally, many of these countries called for financial packages and technology to be provided by the developed countries for their climate-protection projects.

42.  China has announced that it plans to voluntarily decrease its “carbon intensity” by 40 to 45% by 2020, compared to its 2005 levels. This does not necessarily imply that China’s overall carbon output will decrease, the country simply planning to develop its economy faster than it will increase its consumption of fossil fuels. In addition, China has set very high mandatory targets for wind, biomass and solar energy, calling for around 30GW from both wind and biomass energy by 2020. Its clean energy investments went up by 50% in 2009 and totalled US$36.4 billion, thus making China the major power in world clean energy investments.13  Also, at Copenhagen, China accused the industrialised countries of outsourcing their carbon emissions to developing countries. As a result, China is involved in carbon-intensive manufacturing on behalf of Western buyers. Thus, it demanded that consumer countries, rather than producers, should take responsibility for carbon emissions generated by such industrial activities.

43.  India has also committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 20% in comparison to its 2005 levels. This voluntary and non-binding measure is also contingent upon assistance by the international community. For both India and China, the Copenhagen Accord is likely to be viewed as a satisfying outcome for numerous reasons. First of all, the Accord did not compromise their fundamental negotiating positions, including the opposition to imposing binding emission reduction commitments upon developing countries. Even more importantly, from a long-term perspective, the positive outcome of the Copenhagen Summit is that both China and India managed to establish themselves as de facto leaders of the newly-emerged “BASIC” group of countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), which had a considerable impact on the drafting of the Copenhagen Accord.14

44.  South Africa and Brazil have committed to voluntarily reduce their emissions by more than 30% by 2020, compared to the projected level of emissions for that year, if business continued as normal. Brazil mainly plans to achieve this goal by limiting deforestation in the Amazon basin. In terms of renewable energy, Brazil is making surprising progress. With around US$7.4billion investment in clean energy, Brazil has launched itself as second to China among the emerging economies for investments in clean energy, and sixth among the G20.15

3. Developing countries: the African Group and the Alliance of Small Island States

45.  The results of the Copenhagen Summit were perhaps the most disappointing for the African Group, comprised of 50 countries, and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition of 43 small islands and low-lying coastal countries which are most affected by the rising sea levels. Most of these countries were hoping for higher emission reductions, so as to restrict the global temperature rise to 1.5ºC.  Nonetheless, as was already expected even prior to the onset of the Summit, all references to 1.5ºC were removed at the last minute, as were the references to a 80% global emission reduction by 2050.16


IV. THE POST-COPENHAGEN STRATEGY: PRELIMINARY ASSESSMENT AND RECOMMENDATIONS

46.  In the wake of the Copenhagen Summit, several follow-up meetings took place in preparation for the next high-level annual meeting in Cancun, Mexico in late November 2010. The public pressure on policymakers to achieve tangible progress at the Mexico meeting will have increased due to unusually high temperatures during the summer of 2010. Russia in particular suffered from unbearable heat and horrific wildfires. The disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, although completely unrelated to climate change, also increases general public support for environmentalist policies.

47.   However, the prognosis of most politicians, environmentalists and experts from the scientific community, is that the conclusion of an international and legally binding climate treaty in 2010 is highly unlikely. Yet, at the same time, there is general disagreement in the expert community as to whether a legally binding treaty is indeed indispensable, or whether national actions, in a form of politically binding commitments, represent a more practical and feasible way forward.

48.  The reality is that the list of problems related to climate talks is so extensive that the chances of establishing a legally binding treaty are almost nil.  Even Christiana Figueres, the current Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, admitted that “there is no magic bullet, no one climate agreement that will solve everything right now” and suggested focusing on a step-by-step approach.17 The main obstacles are related to President Obama’s domestic political problems, to China’s unwillingness to compromise, to the lack of international leadership on this issue, and to the paralysis of UN institutions when it comes to negotiating and implementing any agreement.

49.  It is widely agreed and insisted upon by many countries that the world’s biggest emitters – China and the United States – must endorse real emission cuts. However, both the United States and China have very fixed positions that are unlikely to change in the run-up to the upcoming talks in Mexico. Currently, China has already undertaken important steps to reduce the increase in greenhouse gas emissions and to develop clean technologies. Despite pushing forward with ambitious national strategies, China is not too keen to be tied to a legally binding agreement. This is because most developing countries believe that rich countries took far less than their share of the responsibility and have demonstrated rather poor performance in meeting the Kyoto-set targets of carbon reduction. Politically, adherence to a legally binding agreement is seen by some in China and other developing nations as equivalent to being patronised by the Western powers.

50.  The United States, on the other hand, owing to numerous domestic reforms undertaken recently, will hardly be in a position to assume a leadership role at the Mexico Summit. President Obama’s Administration is very unlikely to push for radical climate change reforms, as there is little political will to repeat the dramas associated with implementing domestic healthcare reforms. Additionally, the loss of the pro-presidential qualified majority in the Senate significantly slims down chances of a climate bill being passed. Therefore, the milestone bill adopted in 2009 by the House of Representatives had to be revised to increase the chances for it to be endorsed by the Senate. The new version of the bill contains no reference to carbon cap-and-trade system and essentially offers little more than some subsidies for certain energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies. About two-thirds of American voters identified as “conservatives” are sceptical about climate change so the possible victory of conservative candidates at the November 2010 elections is likely to further reduces prospects of adoption of President Obama’s climate bill. That said, the US administration has other tools at its disposal to enforce emission reductions, for instance by applying the Clean Air Act against the largest emitters and by imposing more rigorous fuel and energy efficiency standards. Various US states have introduced emission reduction strategies or are planning to do so. However, without a proper federal law, administrative or state-level measures are unlikely to help the US achieve the 17% reduction pledge (experts of the World Resources Institute assess that these measures can at best result in 13% reduction by 2020).18

51.  It is indispensable that the United States be in favour of reducing its carbon emissions, but this is not the only prerequisite for success. If domestic political considerations prevent the United States from pushing for an ambitious post-Kyoto agreement, the EU must step in to fill the leadership vacuum. The role of the EU is critically important to avoiding developing countries’ disillusionment with “the West” and to preserving the latter’s support for a UN-led climate change effort. The European Commission has officially proposed unilaterally increasing the emission reduction target to 30%, up from 20%, by 2020 compared with 1990 benchmark. If adopted, this proposal would reinforce Europe’s claim for leadership in climate negotiations, but the cost of this action might be unacceptable to many European nations. According to the European Commission’s assessment, reaching the 30% target would require €81 billion, compared with €48billion in the case of the 20% target. The French and German governments have already expressed their opposition to the proposal, which, they argue, would significantly harm European industry and increase energy prices for the people. Thus, the prospect of the EU regaining the status of a leading player in climate negotiations can hardly be achieved without strong political will and determination by the European policymakers.

52.  The paralysis of the UN is another serious obstacle to successful climate change negotiations. The UN as an institution is a great forum for an exchange of opinions, but, at the same time, reaching a consensus on a legally binding treaty among 190 countries is impossible and a tantalising task. The UN is the main vehicle for climate negotiations as it is the only institution which can address global problems, such as climate change. Also, many major polluting countries insist that negotiations are conducted via the UN, as they believe that this forum best protects their national interests.19 

53.  The UN as a venue for negotiation, nonetheless, needs to be responsive and address all possible concerns that countries might have, as well as to ensure a fair and transparent process. This, in turn, makes effective negotiations impossible, especially when most countries are unprepared for compromise. The Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) and the G20, have both been proposed as possible alternative venues for climate change negotiations. Both include the world’s major emitters.20 However, the dangers of changing the negotiation venue is that the climate deal will only be negotiated by the biggest emitters and will effectively exclude the most affected countries, like the small islands, from the negotiation process. In other words, a deal struck only among emitters would render over 100 countries voiceless, and would further reduce the chances of setting the global temperature rise to 1.5ºC as opposed to the current 2ºC.21

54.  As the goal of concluding a UN-brokered and legally binding climate treaty appears to be unfeasible, some experts are now championing the idea of reaching at least a “politically binding” agreement that will commit countries to individual action through domestic policies. Some suggest that focusing on issues at hand will allow issues to be addressed immediately. Instead of setting long-term targets, the focus should be on near-term targets that are pragmatic and technology-based.22 For instance, a multinational initiative could be launched to address one of the contributors to global warming, the ‘black carbon’, the pollution resulting from burning solid as well as diesel fuel and biomass, mostly in household cooking.

55.  Reversing deforestation is also seen as a relatively inexpensive and effective way to mitigate climate change. It is estimated that deforestation is responsible for 17% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The problem of deforestation is essentially limited to tropical regions as the cover of boreal and temperate forests remains stable. Tropical deforestation is usually caused by extensions of farmlands, commercial logging and other human activities. Some technical fixes are not particularly challenging. For instance, sharing best practices of the wood industry could ensure that logging does not result in increase of emissions: it is essential that all wood is converted into products rather than left to decompose (which would release carbon). Reforestation is also regarded as an important means of climate change mitigation, but one has to bear in mind that forests planted by humans, particularly in the tropical regions, are less effective than mature and intact forests in terms of carbon storage. In order to encourage sustainable forestry, tools such as forest carbon markets and credits as well as direct international assistance should be further promoted. However, as most of the tropical forests grow in developing countries, actual enforcement of sustainable forestry policies might be a serious issue as monitoring and measuring forests is a significant challenge.23

56.   In addition to these focused programmes, many experts argue that although a binding agreement can help boost confidence among participant countries, addressing the major priorities are not necessarily contingent upon a globally binding agreement, but can equally be addressed via multilateral co-ordination. Reduction of emissions, development of a global carbon market, promotion of energy savings and efficiency, preparation of adaptation plans and capabilities are goals that can even be addressed by well co-ordinated multilateral co-operation.24

57.  It is also suggested that even without any universal agreement, there is an increasing number of nations choosing to invest more in green technologies. These investments increased by 230% from 2005 to 2009 (due to the global credit crunch, investments declined rather insignificantly in 2009).25 According to the International Energy Agency’s 2009 World Energy Outlook, investments in clean energy sector surpassed those in the oil and gas industry. The G20 accounts for 90% of the investments, and as of 2009 China has taken over as leading power in this regard, surpassing in absolute numbers, the United States, Britain and other Western countries. The Danish government has announced that it is working on a roadmap designed to make Denmark completely fossil-fuel-free by 2050.

58.  That said, it is plausible that all these concrete developments are an indirect result of rising global climate change awareness and discussions on a universal action on climate change. The Rapporteur is convinced that it is too early to give up on hopes of a universal climate pact. Dualtrack strategy must be followed, emphasising both a “step-by-step” approach and the need for a new but more ambitious Kyoto. Relying merely on national action plans is unlikely to help reach the global 2ºC target. Even if national pledges presented before the February 2010 deadline were to have been translated into legislation and actually implemented – a big “if” –, the world economy would still be pumping enough CO2 into the atmosphere to make our planet roughly 3ºC warmer than pre-industrial levels. The top-down approach is indispensable, if we are to avoid dreadful consequences of climate change. It is important to keep this objective on the agenda because the mere process of negotiations is valuable in itself. It could help to achieve at least some tangible progress: for instance, the upcoming high-level meeting in Mexico might not reach an agreement on a global climate pact but it is reasonable to expect decisions clarifying the functioning of specific mechanisms dealing with financial support, technology transfer, national progress verification, and deforestation.

59.  In addition, there is a need to reinvigorate the scientific debate in order to address the re-emergence of doubts in our societies regarding the anthropogenic origins of global warming. Indeed, the mainstream science might have been too dismissive of its opponents. Even if the IPCC general findings remain valid and unquestionable, the sceptical researchers, who are in the minority, ought nevertheless be given more opportunities to present their arguments. Only an honest and open-minded scientific debate can help alleviate existing uncertainties in society. The structure of IPCC needs to be reformed to make it more transparent, inclusive and trustworthy.

60.   The NATO Parliamentary Assembly should continue to serve as a forum for climate change debate among legislators of the Euro-Atlantic region, contributing to the mobilisation of public support and political will for concerted international action on climate change. In the run-up to the Lisbon Summit, the Rapporteur wishes to reiterate the Science and Technology Committee’s position that implications of global climate change deserve more concerted attention within the Alliance and should feature in the new Strategic Concept as one of the crucial factors shaping the current and future security landscape. The Rapporteur supports the recommendation made by the Group of Experts on a New Strategic Concept for NATO that the Alliance could “be called upon to help cope with security challenges stemming from such consequences of climate change as a melting polar ice cap or an increase in catastrophic storms and other natural disasters. The Alliance should keep this possibility in mind when preparing for future contingencies.”


1   BBC Climate Change Poll, February 2010.   http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/05_02_10climatechange.pdf

2   “Let It Be”, The Economist. 29 July 2010.
3   Le réchauffement est-il sûr ? (‘Is global warming real?’), Céile Bonneau and Yves Sciama. Science&Vie, March 2010, p.51.
4   Ibid., p. 44.
5   “Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense”, John Rennie. Scientific American. 30 November 2009.
6   “The Physical Science Behind Climate Change”, William Collins. Scientific American. 6 October 2008.
7   Copenhagen Accord, UN Framework Convention for Climate Change, 18 December 2009.
8   “Big developing states reject Copenhagen climate plan”, Reuters, 2 December 2009.
9   Copenhagen Accord, UN Framework Convention for Climate Change, 18 December 2009.
10   “Perspective on Copenhagen”, Report by Carbon Trust. 24 December 2009.
  http://www.carbontrust.co.uk/news/news/press-centre/2009/Pages/perspective-on-copenhagen.aspx
11   “Climate Goal Is Supported by China and India”, John M. Broder. The New York Times. 9 March 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/10/science/earth/10climate.html
12   “World's nations set different climate protection goals”, 7 December 2009   http://www.dwworld.de/dw/article/0,,4967923,00.html
13   “CO2 reductions slip down EU priority list”, EUobserver online, 15 September 2010
14   “The Copenhagen Summit, A Climate Group Assessment”, January 2010
  http://www.theclimategroup.org/_assets/files/TCG-Copenhagen-Assessment-Report-Jan10.pdf
15   “Less smoke, less fire”, The Economist.com. 23.09.2010
16   “Copenhagen closes with weak deal that poor threaten to reject”, John Vidal and Jonathan Watts.   The Guardian. 19 December 2009. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/19/copenhagen-  closes-weak-deal
17   “Key UN climate talks open in China”, BBC News online 4 October 2010.
18   “Let It Be”, The Economist, 29 July 2010.
19   “A Post-Copenhagen Pathway”, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Sarah O. Ladislaw. 11 January 2010. http://csis.forumone.com/files/publication/100111_Ladislaw_Post_copenhagen.pdf
20   Ibid.
21   “Experts on the chances of a global climate deal working in Mexico in 2010”, The Guardian. 1 February 2010. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/01/experts-chances-global-climate-deal
22   “The road from Copenhagen: the experts' views”, Nature Reports Climate Change. 28 January 2010.   http://www.nature.com/climate/2010/1002/full/climate.2010.09.html
23   “Deforestation and Climate Change”, By Ross W. Gorte and Parvaze A. Sheikh. Congressional Research Service report. 24 March 2010.
24   “A Post-Copenhagen Pathway”, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Sarah O. Ladislaw. 11 January 2010. http://csis.forumone.com/files/publication/100111_Ladislaw_Post_copenhagen.pdf
25 Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race? G-20 Clean Energy Factbook,  http://www.pewtrusts.org/uploadedFiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/Reports/Global_warming/G-20%20Report.pdf

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