Durban opened a new window: where do the emerging economies stand?

by Angeline Annesteus

The climate talks in Doha are expected to be an important step in the history of the United Nations climate negotiations. The Ad Hoc Working Group under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and the Ad Hoc Working for Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) are mandated to culminate their work, and the second formal session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) is taking place. The opening sessions of those working groups give a little glimpse of what to expect in Doha as well as an understanding of this new phase in climate negotiations and the political landscape behind it.

Durban officially blurred the distinction between developed and developing countries with the creation of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP). The ADP—the objective of which is to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force applicable to all parties— is the end result of extensive negotiations and wrangling since 2005 when the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) began being negotiated ( See Nathan’s "How Did We Get to Doha?").

While the objective of the ADP is ambitious, the challenge is in the hands of every party to design a universal regime that is consistent with the process and principles of the Convention.  As expected, parties’ positions on the closing work of the AWG-KP and AWG-LCA as well as the legal form and the design structure of the new treaty vary widely. While the developing countries welcome the progress made by the ADP at its informal and formal sessions in Bonn and Bangkok respectively, they also show grave concerns of some key remaining issues from Durban that the industrialized countries want to completely ignore. Among those issues is the lack of solid commitments by Developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under a second Kyoto commitment period with comparable efforts by non-party Developed countries such as the US under the Convention. There is also the lack of a clear agreement by the developed countries to deliver on finance for mitigation and adaptation for the 2013-2020 period.  The developing countries argue that those issues need to be addressed in Doha for the successful completion of the work of two working groups in order to ease the work under the ADP and reach a comprehensive agreement among parties.

While the EU and some groups, including the UMBRELLA which include countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, and Japan, raise some potential questions from both their submissions and statements for the opening  session the ADP in Doha by just reiterating the need for a new agreement applicable to “all” but with not much detail on how to do so, I am particularly intrigued by the loud calls of countries such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa for the ADP to apply the principles of the Convention on all aspect of its agenda. The statement of the BASIC Group is backed up by those of some key developing countries such as the ALBA (in Latin America), the G77 and China, and the African Group. The BASIC position particularly reiterates that under no circumstances will they take the burden—the historical responsibilities of the developed countries to reduce green house gas emissions and deliver on finance and transfer technology for the developing countries to address their adaptation needs and reinforce their mitigation efforts— of the developed countries.

In fact, climate justice oriented NGOs and many developing countries have been saying for a long time that the strong desire of the developed countries to have a treaty applicable to all parties under the Convention is to escape their historical responsibilities in responding to the climate crisis. Whether such a view is accurate or not, the positions of the developing countries regarding the work of the ADP make it clear that the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) will remain an key element on the table. Indeed, the development of a universal agreement that reflects the core principle of the Convention is an ambiguous task and will always require careful and cautious consideration of concerned parties. However, what that agreement will look like in term of its legal form and design structure remains a mystery. It is certainly too early to tell, but unless the ADP outcome makes the developed countries accountable for their historical responsibilities and fully consider the needs for the developing countries to eradicate poverty and promote development, the new treaty might simply be the reverse/parody of the KP where some key emitters such as the Japan, the EU, and Australia are bound to it while others such as China and India are out.

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