Thursday, March 03, 2011

Climate Change: UN Implores Japan for a Big Climate Step in Durban

UNFCCC Executive Secretary | Credit: UNFCCC

By Hiroshi Nagai

Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsReport

TOKYO (IDN) - The top climate change official of the United Nations, Christiana Figueres, has implored governments to swiftly transform the Cancun agreements into substantial action on the ground, and in particular urged Japan to provide clarity on the future of the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on December 11, 1997, is an international agreement linked to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European Community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These amount to an average of five percent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.

Addressing a symposium of the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies in Tokyo on February 28, Figueres said: "You have invested a lot in the Kyoto Protocol infrastructure. With a categorical NO to the Kyoto Protocol, Japan risks losing those investments."

Figueres, who is Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC went on to say:"I urge Japan to build on the Cancun Agreements throughout 2011 in view of increasing the certainty of the international regime in Durban. With its stated intention of being a bridge-building nation in Asia, Japan is well-poised to make a flexible contribution in this regard, fully in line with the Convention.

The Cancun agreements were reached at the UN Climate Change Conference in Mexico in December 2010.

"Governments must now implement quickly what they agreed in Cancun and take the next big climate step this year in Durban (South Africa)," she told media representatives here on March 1, 2011 ahead of the ninth on informal consultations jointly organized by the governments of Japan and Brazil.

She described the outcome of the UN Climate Change Conference in Mexico as a solid step forward for strengthened global climate action, encompassing the basis for the largest collective effort the world has ever seen to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Cancun agreements, she said, form the most comprehensive package ever decided by governments to help developing nations deal with climate change, and a long-term international agreement to keep average global temperatures below two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.

However, she warned that the sum of promises to reduce or limit emissions so far equals only 60 percent of what the scientific community says is required by 2020 for the world to stay below 2 degrees. Besides, emissions need to peak by 2015 to avoid the agreed temperature goal slipping out of reach.

With an eye on the 17th Conference of Parties (COP17) to the UNFCCC in Durban and the international climate change activities to take place in the course of 2011, Figueres urged governments to agree on a way to cut global emissions about twice as fast as they have already promised, along with increasing the certainty that they will do what they say.

"Governments meeting in Durban (in December 2011) must resolve the remaining issues over the future of the Kyoto Protocol," she said.

"In this context, we need to keep in mind that the Kyoto Protocol remains the only working, binding international model to reduce emissions, and nations have an urgent task to decide how to take forward the protocol's unique benefits of transparency, certainty, compliance in handling national emission targets, and common but differentiated responsibilities," she added.


According to Figueres, a major challenge this year is for governments also to ensure that the agreed climate finance, technology for developing nations and new institutions to manage this which were agreed at COP16 in Mexico appear on time.

The UN's top climate change official described three central areas in which this needs to happen:

Firstly, the Green Climate Fund needs to be fully operational by Durban, and industrialised countries need to agree concretely how to deliver a promised US$100 billion per year by 2020.

Secondly, the UN Climate Change Secretariat needs to receive promised details of the US$30 billion in fast-start financing from industrialized countries to cover 2010-2012.

And thirdly, the Cancun Adaptation Framework and Technology Mechanism need to become fully operational, through agreement on their composition and the precise ways they will work.

Referring to the climate change conference in Durban, Figueres said: "The poor and vulnerable of the world need to see real change has happened, and the businessmen, scientists and engineers who launch real solutions on the ground need to see a new era of international climate action has truly begun."

"And in Durban, governments need to take the next step to increase their ambition to reduce global emissions together," she added.

The UN climate change secretariat expects that much of the focus in Durban will be on finalizing and adopting the institution-building arrangements launched in Cancun, as well as the methodologies to provide the rigour and transparency.

Figueres fondly recalled: "Once upon a time, when the world was still young and innocent to the realities of climate change that were to emerge in the following decade or so, Japan stepped up to the plate and led the way on climate protection. As a result, the only operational multilateral protocol that binds nations to the promise of a stable atmospheric future bears the name of the city that represents the soul of Japan."

She added: "While the KP (Kyoto Protocol) got off to a good start, over the years, it started to become clear that efforts were nowhere sufficient to fulfill climate protection. It will be impossible to stabilize concentrations unless all countries are on board. No international agreement has ever been perfect, ever been without loopholes and flaws -- even the ones with all the favourable circumstances on their side. So we kept trying to shape something better, and to get all countries to pull their weight."

The result was the Cancun agreements. These were a crucial point in the evolution of international efforts to address climate change. "Cancun was a big step for many nations, but it is a small step for the planet."

Figueres said the agreements have opened up a bottom-up approach to mitigation. But it is far from certain that this will be enough to keep to 2 degrees, or whether a top-down international agreement to complement the bottom-up approach would be required.

In Cancun, countries also agreed to indicate a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. Most countries want the Protocol to continue, a few countries like Japan are less keen on this. Others are of the view that certain elements of the protocol, especially predictability, the compliance system, the flexible mechanisms and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, should continue to be upheld and be integrated into mitigation agreements elsewhere.

Picking up the thread from there, Figueres said. "Ultimately, governments need to decide on this at the next UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, especially in view of avoiding a gap between the first and a possible second commitment period under the protocol. In this context, Durban is also the last opportunity to provide clarity on the carbon market before the end of the commitment period.

"Durban needs to build on Cancun, not only on the new institutions, but also in terms of increasing certainty of the international framework. The Kyoto Protocol is the only historical experience we can learn from.