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Cover Stories Series 2011
UPDATED: June 13, 2011 NO. 24 JUNE 16, 2011
Climate Talks Lack Weight
Countries argue over climate issues, holding little hope for the Durban climate change conference later this year


WARMING WOES: Ice sculptors work on a polar bear sculpture in Sydney on June 3 during an event aimed at raising public awareness of global warming (TANG MING) 

Representatives from around the world have been gathering in Bonn, Germany, for a 12-day UN climate change conference from June 6 to 17. But given the difficulties in getting the countries to reach agreement, the talks may end up yielding few, if any, results.

Shortly before the conference, the International Energy Agency released a report saying energy-related carbon dioxide emissions increased to hit a record high of 30.6 billion tons in 2010. These emissions make it impossible to keep temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius by 2020, a target set by the 2009 Copenhagen Accord.

In May, data from an observatory at the Mauna Loa Volcano in Hawaii showed the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose to 395 parts per million, a new high. The observatory has the earliest continuous records and analysis of this figure. In 1957, when data collection at the facility started, the figure was only 315 parts per million.


The Kyoto Protocol is the only legally binding document that the international community has reached in the process of tackling climate change. Next year is the end of its first commitment period (2008-12). But countries such as Japan, Canada, Russia and the United States have refused to renew it, arguing the protocol should be replaced with a new one.

Developing countries, still, continue to view it as the basis of international negotiations and cooperation on climate change. Abandoning the Kyoto Protocol, they agree, will set back climate talks and measures aimed at addressing climate change.

Whether the Bonn conference or the climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, later this year can save the Kyoto Protocol is still in question. Maybe we can do nothing but watch it be abandoned. If so, the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" will be abandoned with it. Calls for developed countries to fulfill quantified emissions reduction targets and developing countries to take voluntary emissions reduction actions, which were reaffirmed by the 2010 Cancun Agreements, will also be rendered invalid.

If this happens, the international community will no longer have any legally binding regulations on emissions reduction. Greenhouse gases will then be able to be emitted without punishment, bringing the future of this planet into question.


Indeed, the Cancun conference at the end of last year gave people hope, prompting many to develop high expectations for the upcoming Durban conference. The Cancun Agreements set up a Green Climate Fund, while calling for measures to improve technology transfer mechanisms and enhance developing countries' ability to adapt to climate change.

But efforts to launch the Green Climate Fund have met difficulties due to disagreements on the membership of the transitional committee for the design of the fund and the World Bank's qualification as a trustee. Many people expected the Bonn conference to push developed countries to honor their commitments and bring the Cancun Agreements into practice, only to find themselves disappointed.

At the 2009 Copenhagen conference, developed countries promised to give $30 billion from 2010 to 2012 to help poor countries handle climate change. So far, only $12 billion has been given. But of this $12 billion, much was faked by changing the name of existing assistance funds, said a World Resources Institute report. Let's not forget the $100 billion a year by 2020 that was promised to the least developed countries and developing countries to enhance their abilities to tackle climate change and realize green development.


During the first round of negotiations this year, held in Bangkok in April, signs of a lack of motivation for international climate talks were evident. Participating parties argued on almost every issue, from emissions reduction targets to assistance funds.

Like previous conferences, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change managed to come up with an agreement on its 2011 agenda at the last minute, paving the way for the Bonn conference.

But differences remain. On topics like the future of the Kyoto Protocol, debate between developed and developing countries is fierce. There's no sign of compromise in sight. Major negotiating parties also lack motivation to establish a new international climate cooperation mechanism.

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