Do you know that the US, the so-called ‘superpower’ nation, never honoured the only global treaty on CO2 emission reduction – the Kyoto Protocol of 1997?
Here is a brief history of global climate discussions.
In 1992, nations formed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at Rio de Janeiro. This convention or agreement is still in force. It bound countries to take necessary actions to avert dangerous global warming, though actions remained unspecified. Since then the UNFCCC has been meeting every year.
Over the next couple of years, discussions revolved around what actions nations should take and roles of developed and developing countries. Year 1997 marked an important milestone in arriving at an agreement on specific emission cuts – called the Kyoto protocol. This agreement required emissions cuts of about 5% (compared with 1990 levels) by 2012, and gave emission reduction target to each developed nation. The treaty would legally come into effect only after ratified by countries representing at least 55% of global emissions.
It left out countries like China, South Korea, Mexico and other rapidly developing economies. Then China was considered just a large developing nation, one among other poor countries.
It was a time when the US was world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. The Protocol was signed by the then US vice-president Al Gore but the US Congress never ratified it. With Americans backing off the Kyoto Protocol remained in abeyance – and the global greenhouse emission continued in the business-as-usual manner.
In the following years, annual UNFCCC meetings remained indecisive. Then suddenly in 2004 Russia decided to ratify the Protocol – it was actually part of a move meant to get its application for WTO membership accepted by the EU. With Russian ratification the touchline of 55% was crossed and the Protocol finally came into force.
The US firmly kept itself outside the Protocol and annual UN meetings remained mere directionless ‘climate talk shows’. In the meantime, China fast emerged as a dominant emitter to compete with the US.
So in order to bring in the US, negotiators changed their approach and urged China to take on emission cut limits. So a new action plan was agreed at Bali in 2007 that would take Kyoto forward.
Next breakthrough was achieved in the Copenhagen conference of 2009.
For the first time, the group of developed nations and biggest developing countries agreed to cuts on their greenhouse gas emissions. It was hailed as landmark because it aligned the world’s biggest emitters towards the same goal – to stop global warming. Although the agreed emissions reductions were not enough to restrict the warming within 2 degree by 2100, but it was better than the emissions under the “business as usual” scenario.
However, the Copenhagen agreement could not be fully adopted because of the last-minute chaos at the conference. But it got ratified the following year in 2010 in the form of the Cancun agreements.
So the targets agreed at Copenhagen and ratified at Cancun are still in force. Of course, there is no way to monitor or impose them for compliance.
What is the Status before the Paris Climate Conference?
Countries emitting about two-thirds of global emissions have declared their targets – known in the UN language as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs; others may do so soon.
Among the biggest emitters, the EU intends to cut its emissions by 40%, compared with 1990 levels, by 2030. China declares that its emissions will peak by 2030. The US commits to cut its emissions by 26% to 28%, compared with 2005 levels, by 2025 – keep in mind that it is not the commitment of the US Congress. So it is mere paper talk and diplomatic posturing by Obama administration.
It is clear to experts that these commitments by themselves are not enough to restrict global temperature rise within 2 degree Celsius by 2100.
So, the Paris discussions have to work towards deeper cuts than commitments so far and also arrive at some regular monitoring mechanism. The meeting should also focus on bringing in ‘non state actors’ such as Furtune 500 companies to urge them to cut their emissions and large global investors to have them divest from fossil centered companies.
Green Climate Fund
Then there is the vital issue of financing poorer countries both for investing in clean technologies and adapting their infrastructure to the likely damage from climate change.
Here again the US stands out as a weird country with misplaced priorities. It can create global alliance and pump out several trillion dollar for the so-called ‘war on terror’ and can give billions to Pakistan – a failed nation breeding Islamic terrorists – for arms but shows no responsible interest to put together a mere $100 billion a year Green Climate Fund to help poor nations cope up with climatic dangers.
Paris conference should also think of ways to involve mega global charities like the Gates foundation, Wellcome Trust and other biggies to contribute to the Green Fund and save lives in the poor countries where people are most vulnerable to climatic disasters which are getting deadlier year by year.
How about roping in the Fortune 500 companies! They also must become part of the climatic solution and stand out as environmentally responsible corporations.
Global warming is not a government-only problem; private sector and billionaires have to also come forward and be part of the solution now. Climatic furies don’t distinguish between a cocky billionaire and a lowly street beggar.