Carbon criminals and the 'victim pays' principle

December 8, 2007

The first days of the December 3-14 Bali meeting on a post-Kyoto framework for tackling climate change showed that the US-led call for a "comprehensive new agreement" that would require Third World countries that are big greenhouse-gas emitters to commit to emission reductions had the support of most First World government delegations. This push would reverse one of the most valuable aspects of the Kyoto Protocol, which is due to expire in 2012.

While Kyoto is hardly a radical document, it does include the basic climate justice principle that First World nations need to lead on countering global warming, reducing their emissions and developing clean energy technology.

The US, Canada, the European Union, Japan and Australasia, inhabited by 15% of the world's population, produce 50% of global CO2 emissions. Europe and North America are responsible for 70% of historic global CO2 emissions since 1860. While countries like China and India are fast catching up on big emitters like the US in terms of total country output of greenhouse gases, emissions per capita are still vastly less. For example, China's per capita emissions are only one-fifth of the US's.

Throughout 2007, US President George Bush, with his deputy John Howard, have been pushing this anti-Kyoto line, with seemingly little success. At the numerous high-level UN meetings and international gatherings such as APEC in Sydney and the G8 meeting in Germany, most governments have spurned the US and Australian approach. But it now seems that Bush succeeded in pushing this agenda at his own private "big polluters" September 27-28 meeting in Washington. The goal of that meeting was to cohere a bloc of countries that would back Washington at the Bali negotiations.

The US has so far been joined by Japan, Australia, Canada, Norway and the EU countries in calling for "further, fair and effective contributions" from developing countries. This demand has been presented almost as a precondition for developed countries committing to post-2012 emissions reductions.

Poor countries have opposed this cynical move to erase Kyoto's global justice principles, according to a December 5 article published on the Third World Network website. Members of the G77 (a coalition of developing nations established in 1964 to represent the interests of Third World nations in UN negotiations that now involves 130 countries), have criticised developed countries' failure to fulfil their current obligations under Kyoto. This includes failures to meet emissions reduction targets, to provide financial aid for adaptation to climate change, and technology transfers to poor countries.

According to the November 24 British Guardian, a group of rich countries including Britain, the EU, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and New Zealand have broken a 2001 promise to pay US$1.2 billion to poor countries for adaptation purposes. So far only about $180 million of the pledged funds have been delivered.

The G77 has also expressed frustration at the lack of progress on resolving issues of intellectual property rights over climate-friendly technologies and has called for increased funding for research and development.

It is the poor nations that will bear (and are bearing) the brunt of the early stages of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's most recent report, released on November 17, warned inaction on tackling global warming would have possible impacts that include: In Africa, by 2020, 75-250 million people could suffer water stress and agricultural yields could be reduced by up to 50%; in Asia freshwater availability will decrease and coastal areas will be at greater risk of flooding and inundation from rising sea levels; and Latin America risks significant biodiversity loss and reduced agricultural yields.

Speaking on behalf of the Africa Group, a UN regional group incorporating more than 50 African countries, at the Bali meeting, a Nigerian delegate argued: "We find it absolutely incomprehensible that the future can be adequately considered and predicted without due reference to the past and present.

"The way forward is for the developed countries to now act with respect to fulfilling their commitments. The developed countries more than ever before should be committed to aggressive emission reduction domestically rather than passing the buck to the developing countries.

"Africa believes the process should set targets for the developed countries to provide financial resources within a specific time frame. It is time for practical implementation of all these issues of adaptation, technology transfer, and capacity building among others."

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