North vs South

  • 14/08/1998

IN DECEMBER 1997, the Kyoto Protocol on the Climate Change Convention was adopted merely five years after the adoption of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC). The rapidity with which these treaties have been negotiated and adopted and the number of countries involved (more than 173 countries have ratified the FCCC) indicate that the regime is developing in a highly successful manner.

From an economic point of view, the protocol appears to be a success because the essentiality of cost-effectiveness is maintained. However, from an environmental standpoint, the protocol is a step back as the binding targets have been postponed by an additional 12 years - instead of making the year 2000 the target year, the new target year is 2012. This falls considerably short of what was recommended by the scientific community. From a North-South point of view, the protocol is no success as it does not define the criteria for the allocation of environmental burdens. It also fails to draw lessons from the pilot phase on activities jointly implemented and does not elaborate sufficiently on the issue of technology transfer. Ironically, the ratification of the protocol by the United States (US), vital for the success of the convention, has been made dependent on the "meaningful participation" of large developing countries. The US government, which often talks about showing leadership on various issues, wants to make sure that there will be followers.

Targets and loopholes
The original CO2 stabilisation targets in the FCCC for industralised (Annex I) countries were ambiguously worded as targets to be aimed at rather than commitments to be implemented in a legally binding sense. Although countries of the European Union (KU) may be able to stabilise their CO2 emissions by the year 2000 at their 1990 levels, emissions in the US may be as much as 11 per cent above their 1990 level in 2000. New Zealand, Australia, Finland, Norway, Japan and many other developed countries are also likely to have higher emission levels in 2000 than they had in 1990. The press secretary of the White House is reported to have stated, "It would be unrealistic to attempt to reach by the year 2000 the 1990 levels on emissions because it would most likely wreck the world economy if you attempted to do that." The Kyoto Protocol is a considerable step forward in that it makes targets for developed countries legally binding. However, not all that glistens is gold.

The targets on greenhouse gases reduction fall short of what is needed to achieve the ultimate objective of the FCCC - a stabilisation of greenhouse concentrations in the atmosphere that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Groups of countries may adopt a common target which they may allocate among themselves in an apt manner so long as this allocation is subsequently communicated along with the instrument of ratification. The coherence and internal consistency of these projects and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is unclear. Without going intp details, we could mention differences in the possibility of banking emissions credits; the requirement that a percentage of the proceeds of CDM is reserved for adaptation projects in vulnerable countries but similar requirements do not apply to the other mechanisms; and countries like Russia and Ukraine could gain financially from trading their unused allocations whereas developing countries have no such possibility. Finally, completely in opposition to the original rhetoric of developed country leadership and given the need of developing countries requiring time to enhance themselves economically, the US has stated that it is of vital importance that the key developing countries commit themselves to "meaningful action" for the Senate to ratify the protocol.

The issue of meaningful action will probably come up at the Conference of Parties in Argentina in November 1998. For the US, this has become important. The state department cannot convince the Senate of domestic action unless they can show that developing countries are likely to follow soon. At the same time, this is seen by developing countries as increasingly unfair as the US is nowhere near aehieving'the goal of stabilisation by 2000. It only wishes to make its responsibilities conditional on the role of developihg countries.

Cost-effectiveness and equity
In many ways, the debate on how emission reduction should be undertaken has been taken over by the economists. Cost-effectiveness, the goal *to achieve a given target with minimum costs, is ran important economic principle. Economists argue that joint implementation and emission trading are the most cost-effective ways of reducing emissions by industrialised countries because these mechanisms allow for emission reduction to take place in the countries and sectors where the marginal costs of reduction are the lowest. While economists can calculate how to achieve given targets in a cost-effective way, they have little input on how the initial allocation of targets should take place. Unfortunately, international law also does not provide any guidelines about how Equity (thus the issue of allocation of targets) should be interpreted. In an article on equity in international environmental law, environmental law expert Farhana Yamin concludes that there is "no universally agreed meaning of equity".

There is no doubt that some form of equity needs to be taken into account in determining the allocation of responsibilities among countries. However, countries seem to argue that just about any variation in national conditions should be taken into account in determining responsibility. The FCCC itself recognises that national priorities, objectives and circumstances - for instance, dependence on fossil fuel (exports), type of country (least developed, small island states, developing county, countries in transition, most developed) - justify differential treatment. In literature, equity can imply equal effort (that is, maintaining the status quo between nations), differentiated effort on the basis of contribution to the problem and equal goals, equal quotas, (on per capita or per state basis). Each approach tends to favour different groups of countries.

Gross emission levels have been cited by some researchers in order to focus on major polluters. However, such an approach tends to be lopsided and large and populated countries suffer. A per capita approach may tend to put the blame on countries like the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, the former Soviet Union and the EU since their per capita emissions are very high. If one were to use a formula such as carbon emissions per unit of Gross National Product (GOT), China and India would be the main culprits since their economies would not appear very efficient. A per hectare target would benefit large countries with a small population. However, if the formula was changed to carbon emissions per unit of GNP using purchasing power parity exchange rates, China, the US, South Africa, the EU and India would be held responsible for the problem. Is it fair to formulate flat reduction targets that also apply to countries that are already very efficient? If it fair that countries with sloppy population policies should get higher quotas? These are only some of the issues that need to be; taken into account. Should all these issues be taken into account in determining what is fair?

Although international law cannot provide clear guidance on understanding equity, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) argued in its 1996 report that in the case of climate change, distribution of the cost of adaptation, cost of abatement, future emissions rights and ensuring institutional and procedural fairness are the four equity issues that could be used to determine the responsibilities of countries. The report states that equity can imply parity (equal distribution of burdens or benefits), proportionality (burdens and benefits are distributed in accordance with contributions of claimants), priority (those who need the most should be given priority), classical utilitarianism (the greatest good of the greatest number) and distributive justice (equal distribution unless unequal distribution leads to greater social justice). However, it is clear that the issues to be decided will set a very important precedent for future negotiations on sharing environmental responsibilities.

Meaningful participation
The term "meaningful participation" has been coined by the US. It is, therefore, up to their Senate to define it. But if developing countries sit back and enable the Senate to do so, they will end up being purely reactive. Furthermore, it would be unwise for developing countries to take on a we-will-do-nothing-for-the-time-being approach since many of them are already taking climate-related measures, although for other reasons. It is, therefore, vital that the developing countries take stock of the situation and see in what way and when their contribution can be meaningful. They should lobby for support from the KU and thereby ensure collective pressure on the US. In defining meaningful participation, developing countries can learn from other countries. The Dutch climate change policy was initially based entirely on existing policies, particularly in the field of energy efficiency. British climate change policies benefited from the closing down of coal mines. The German policy benefited from the closure of old factories in the former German Democratic Republic. Any existing policy that focuses on adaptation strategies, improving the efficiency of energy production and use, on renewable energy and on public transport can be presented as meaningful participation. If developing countries decide to participate in the CDM, it should be presented as meaningful participation. The G-77 nations and China should define meaningful participation in a way that suits their conditions. It should be well packaged and put on the table as their negotiation position.

Onno Kuik and Joyeeta Gupta are senior researchers at the Institute of Environmental Studies, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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