Canada seems to be enjoying its status as the pariah of the Durban climate change talks, reportedly registering a louder cheer in its parliament each time it is awarded a “fossil of the day” award by environmental NGOs.
Canada has been targeted, not just because it has refused — like Japan and Russia — to sign up to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, but because it has also threatened to walk away from Kyoto before its expiry. This a key point — Canada, largely as a result of its controversial oil sands exploitation, is the only one of the developed nations bound by Kyoto to radically miss its targets.
Rather than achieving a cut of 6% of its greenhouse gas emissions, it is heading for an increase of one third. Bloomberg has estimated the extra 890 million tonnes of CO2e means it is facing a bill of about $6.7 billion — even at the current rock bottom international carbon prices. The bill would have been double at prices prevailing earlier this year, but if it leaves Kyoto before its expiry, Canada may reason that it can simply tear up the contract.
The hard-line approach of Canada and the US is ostensibly designed to help force big-emitting developing countries, such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa, to commit to a future binding treaty, and to make “comparable” reductions. But it is not entirely clear that Canada and the US are prepared for what may happen if the so-called “BRIC” nations actually make that commitment.
Such a scenario seemed remote at the start of these talks, but there is intrigue at the growing subtlety of the Chinese approach. China has, on several occasions in the past few days, asserted that it is ready to consider a legally binding agreement and accept an absolute cap on its own emissions. There are, of course, certain conditions, including agreements on finance for poorer countries, and for the developed countries to hold true to their undertakings under Kyoto.
Brazil and South Africa are talking the same language, offering the tantalising prospect that Durban may actually be able to produce its own significant accord, one based, at least loosely, around the EU vision of a new roadmap — which is to agree on the form of such a treaty by 2015 and to implement it by 2020, or thereabouts. Of the G6 that dominate these talks — US, China, India, Brazil, South Africa and the EU — only the US and India seem ill-prepared for such an eventuality. And, of course, Canada: It may not have fully considered its options should China call its bluff. And there, but for the grace of a hung parliament, goes Australia.
Climate Change minister Greg Combet flew into Durban on the weekend, possibly more worried about the fate of international carbon trading than the immediate fate of Kyoto and whatever political agreement can be constructed to cover the gap between that and a new treaty.
The two are considered by many to be interlinked. Brazil says that without Kyoto or a comparable treaty, international carbon markets will serve no purpose. That would not worry some, such as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, or the “pluri-national” state of Bolivia, who both seem ideologically opposed to the idea, albeit for different reasons.
The Bolivian delegation asserts that carbon markets do not respect the rights of Mother Nature, and insists that “there will be no commodification of the functions of nature”. Deep down, Abbott may agree, but prefers to describe them as a get-rich-quick scheme for carbon traders in Equatorial Guinea and Kazakhstan.
Still, as Paul Curnow points out in this intriguing analysis, the countries that have most benefits from the Clean Development Mechanism — Brazil, India and China — may no longer see it as an over-riding positive. The CDM exists now because it allows developed countries to make investments in developing countries and access cheaper sources of abatement. But Brazil, China and India also realise that, when it comes to meeting their own absolute targets, exporting cheaper sources of abatement to other countries will no longer be the attractive proposition it now appears. The CDM may, in the future, have to exist in an altogether different form. The analysis is worth a read.
Turkey earned its first fossil for seeking technology and financing grants without committing to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. Turkey has doubled its emissions since 1990 and did not submit a pledge under the Copenhagen Accord.
Brazil also gained a first-prize fossil on Friday for its new forestry law, which green NGOs say will accelerate the loss of trees in the Amazon rainforest, and for proposing that credits for avoided deforestation under the REDD mechanism be issued without the benefit of international scrutiny.
New Zealand also earned a fossil for the same reason, suggesting that international credits be issued with no oversight or review. “This would likely unleash a wild west carbon market with double or triple counting of offsets and a likely increase of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere,” the NGOs lamented.
And, of course, Canada earned yet another fossil for claiming that the fossil awards were “uninformed” and “ideologically driven”.