Setting the agenda

The opening remarks of the Secretary of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, outlined what needs to be achieved this year, and were targeted and precise about the process required to get there. Figueres said that this year we need to complete the work begun at Cancun and this requires the parties to move forward in a spirit of flexibility and compromise. Figueres, after noting that the pledges currently received by the Secretariat amount only to 60 per cent of what is required, sees two key issues for this year:

  • the resolution of key issues under the Kyoto Protocol; in particular, overcoming the very real danger that there will be no legally binding limitations on emissions for any countries after the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol
  • delivering on the Cancun Agreements to ensure that the institutions and frameworks required therein are in place in 2012 in accordance with the deadlines set out

Figueres is of course optimistic. It is, after all, easier to be optimistic at the start of the year than at the end, when yet another “crunch time” looms.

The early workshops

Sunday and Monday saw sessions presenting quantified economy-wide emission reduction targets by developed country parties and also developing country parties’ presentations on their “nationally appropriate mitigation actions” (NAMAs). These sessions allow all parties to have a good look at what each party is doing in order to meet its stated emissions reduction targets. Two presentations of interest were those of United States and China. Their targets haven’t changed, which is neither surprising nor controversial, but the statistics surrounding their implementation actions are significant. Let’s just put a few numbers out there:

China

  • will endeavour to lower its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 per cent by 2020 compared to the 2005 level, increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15 per cent by 2020 and increase forest coverage by 40 million hectares and forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters by 2020 from the 2005 levels
  • has closed down small inefficient power plants taking 60 GW of dirty power off the grid, saving 110 million tons CO2-e
  • leads the world in clean energy investment (including in hydro, solar PV and solar heaters)
  • has implemented vehicle efficiency standards “more stringent than in some developed countries”
  • has implemented many “market based” mechanisms, including differentiated electricity pricing in all 30 provinces
  • has implemented a range of successful subsidy programs (such as for the promotion of efficient air conditioners, taking them from 5 to 80 per cent market share)

The United States

  • will reduce all its greenhouse gas emissions “in the range of 17 per cent (below 2005 levels by 2020), in conformity with anticipated US energy and climate legislation, recognizing that the final target will be reported to the Secretariat in light of enacted legislation”
  • has issued increased efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, and has proposed increased efficiency standards for heavy vehicles
  • plans to propose emissions standards for electricity generation through the EPA
  • has proposed a target of 80 per cent of energy to come from clean sources by 2035
  • invested US$91 billion in clean energy in 2009, including US$29 billion in energy efficiency and US$21 billion in renewable energy

Parties’ overall targets have not changed from what has been presented to the UNFCCC following both Copenhagen, and the workshops could therefore be criticised as simply going through the motions of presenting information already officially on the record. The usefulness of these sessions will therefore lie in the extent to which they really enable parties to genuinely understand each others’ targets and actions (and the detail underlying them). If this is possible then they may be a useful baby step in unlocking some aspects of the negotiations.

Separately, a Workshop on the Technology Mechanism discussed issues relating to the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN). Though there is much interest in this area, one which could have significant commercial impacts, there has been uncertainty as to how it will work in practice. More clarity in this regard will be very welcome.

Climate - a done deal?

Some negotiators have commented that it almost seems that the so called “Cancun Agreements” are being spun into a “done deal” which may serve as the backbone of the future international regime, in the absence of the political will to go beyond them. There would of course still remain a significant number of issues to be addressed, such has what would happen to the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and how “legally binding” is “legally binding enough” to stimulate the private sector investment that is required to tackle dangerous climate change. This year should provide an insight into how far the Parties are looking beyond the “Cancun Agreements”.