China, India, Brazil Say Kyoto Debate Threatens Climate Talks

China Says Kyoto Pact Debate Threatens Climate Talks
Emissions rise out of smokestacks in Fuji City, Japan. Japan is the world’s fourth-biggest polluter. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

China, India and Brazil led developing nations in saying Japan’s refusal to help extend the Kyoto Protocol to curb greenhouse gas emissions may halt work on a global accord to combat global warming.

A total of 84 countries, including Japan, signed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, agreeing to limit fossil fuel emissions. Those limits expire in December 2012, and with no other agreement to replace Kyoto, delegates at the United Nation climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, say extending the pact is crucial.

“The Kyoto Protocol is the very basis of the framework to address climate change through international cooperation,” China’s envoy, Su Wei told reporters in Cancun. “If the pillar is collapsed, you can guess the consequences.”

Failure to reach an agreement on extending Kyoto’s mandate threatens to undermine the UN-brokered Clean Development Mechanism, the world’s second-biggest market for emissions credits, worth $2.7 billion last year.

“Kyoto has to continue, otherwise the whole negotiation would fall apart,” Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado, Brazil’s lead negotiator in Cancun said in an interview last night.

Japanese negotiator Kunihiko Shimada said in an interview on Nov. 30 that the protocol is “outdated” because it only covers 27 percent of global emissions and that his country won’t accept a second commitment period once the current targets expire.


“It’s certainly troubling,” Lou Leonard, managing director of the climate change program at WWF in Washington, said in an interview. “It’s not the end of the story. There is growing support among Kyoto Protocol countries for moving forward in some form. We will have to wait and see how that goes.”

Japan’s position is important because the talks require a consensus and Japan is the world’s fourth-biggest polluter behind China, the U.S. and Russia. The issue raises the prospect this year’s discussions will fail to reach any agreement on combating climate change, ending in discord like the meeting in Copenhagen in 2009.

UN credits for 2012 traded at 4.19 euros ($5.49) less than those in the European Union’s cap-and-trade program yesterday. That compares with a 2.39 euro discount at the start of the year. UN credits for 2010 gained 0.7 percent yesterday to 11.84 euros a metric ton. EU permits rose 0.5 percent to 14.82 euros.

Progress Stalled

The dispute also may hamper progress in other areas of the discussions, which aim to protect forests, channel up to $100 billion to poor nations and set up a system to verify the emissions reductions countries say they’re making.

“We cannot see how we can continue with the carbon markets without the Kyoto Protocol,” Gambian envoy Pa Ousman Jarju said in an interview. “If we don’t have positive signals for the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol in a second commitment period, we are not going to give in on any other issues.”

U.S. envoy Jonathan Pershing sidestepped the controversy in a briefing with reporters yesterday, noting the U.S. didn’t ratify Kyoto and isn’t party to the discussions about what to do with the accord.

“The U.S. is not and has not been a party to the Kyoto Protocol,” Pershing said. “We’re not taking part. I don’t have any real comment. Japan has been quite clear. It’s any country’s right about how to move forward.”

The gap makes it difficult to reach the “ultimate goal” of protecting the planet from climate change, he said at a briefing last night.

Two Tracks

The talks have two tracks. One would set new greenhouse gas cuts for nations bound by Kyoto. The other would make targets for the U.S., the only developed nation not to ratify Kyoto, and spell out actions to be taken by developing nations including China.

Japan favors a single legally-binding instrument that includes all major emitters. It doesn’t want to extend the exemption from making emission cuts granted to developing nations including China under Kyoto.

“If the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is not there, then I’m afraid the prospects for any positive outcome at Cancun are very remote,” Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said today in an interview at his office in New Delhi.

While the outcome of discussions on the Kyoto track would be legally binding, delegates have yet to decide whether the results of the discussion about U.S. and developing country actions also will be binding. That issue caused a day-long suspension of talks at the Copenhagen climate summit last December and wasn’t resolved.

Not Concluded

“Here we are at another Conference of the Parties, and we still haven’t concluded that we should have a legally-binding agreement,” Tuvaluan envoy Ian Fry, who triggered the suspension of talks in the Danish capital last year, told delegates.

Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, president of this year’s conference, yesterday decided to set up a forum that will examine the legal form of the outcome, fending off opposition to such discussions from India, China and Saudi Arabia. A final decision won’t be made in Cancun, she said.

Figueiredo of Brazil said that in Cancun, as in last year’s meeting in Copenhagen, some countries are playing a “certain game of ‘I don’t do it until you do it,’ followed very, very, very swiftly by a certain blame game.”

Saudi Arabian lead negotiator Mohammad al-Sabban said there’s no point in discussing the legal form of the second track of discussions while nations were flouting their obligations under the existing Kyoto Protocol.

“The most important question now is how we maintain the status of the Kyoto Protocol before we discuss a legally binding new agreement,” al-Sabban said. “We should have the second commitment period, otherwise there is no need or meaning to adopt decisions that we know can be flouted by countries whenever they feel like it.”

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