The end of the Durban conference is approaching, and in all likelihood, the end of the Kyoto Protocol along with it.
Developments in the last few days indicate the outcome is more likely to confirm a global disagreement, rather than agreement, over the idea of a second Kyoto commitment period, or “Kyoto II,” for all countries, both developed and developing.
Reports on Wednesday characterized the disagreement, at its heart, as between China and the United States. China will not participate in a global treaty until western countries acknowledge that it should not be bound by legal requirements since it is still developing and not responsible for historical emissions. America considers China to be a major player and will not participate in any global agreement without their involvement.
The disagreement, however, is not just between China and the U.S.
On Tuesday, Australia and New Zealand joined other western countries in saying that they will not sign a Kyoto II if other countries don’t opt in. The UK also added its voice to the chorus, saying developing countries such as China need to take on more responsibility.
This does not include Japan, Russia and Canada, who have all announced they will not rejoin Kyoto without emerging economies’ involvement.
The lone player in this divide is the European Union, whose proposal to consider an extension of current Kyoto commitments, in exchange for a broader treaty that includes emerging economies to begin in 2015, was roundly dismissed by China and India. Perhaps for this reason, the EU openly expressed frustration on Wednesday, likening the negotiating process to a game of ping pong between the world’s largest economies.
It is not clear, however, if China and the U.S. were to leave the process altogether, the fundamental disagreement would disappear.
Certainly, their presence – given their status as the world’s top two emitters – is critical.
At a press conference Monday, China’s lead negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, vice chair of the national development and reform commission, announced that China is open to a legally binding agreement in 2020.
Xie, however, stopped short of saying whether China would participate. Instead, he outlined five conditions that would need to be met before it joined, including that all previous commitments by the industrial countries be met before they move on to the next phase. Other conditions included the extension of Kyoto commitments for industrial countries and delivery on immediate and long-term financial aid to poor countries and new low-carbon technologies.
The EU, the United States and other countries expressed skepticism over the announcement and that they were unlikely to change their own in response until new details emerged. China has always been in favor of a legally binding agreement, but that does not mean it intends to be bound by it, EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard reportedly said.
Xie himself said that the position was not new, and that the pre-conditions come from the Bali Action Plan, the Copenhagen Accord and the Cancun Agreement.
Indeed, China has held this position for years. Its leadership is fully aware that America’s diametrically opposed view – that all major players, including China, must be full partners of a global treaty before it participates – also has been held for years and will not change.
Todd Stern of the U.S. and Xie were scheduled to meet December 6.