Will change come to Cancun?

Now, it is hosting the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. The similarity in backdrops between the two occasions is striking. The WTO ministerial meeting in 2003 followed the ministerial meeting in Doha in 2001. The Doha ministerial meeting had adopted the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), which attempted to make developing countries bigger players in global trade. World trade dynamics were never the same again with the North-South divide surfacing sharply over several issues leading to almost negligible progress on the agenda.

The Cancun ministerial meeting brought out the divide in world trade in the open with daggers sharply drawn. Though one does not know the fate of Cancun this time, like in 2003, it is convening after the tumultuous conference on climate change in Copenhagen in 2009.

The climate conference is expected to see the North and South clash over several issues, particularly the quantum of emission reduction. Developing countries have taken most by surprise by implementing large-scale emission reduction programs. China has led the efforts, followed by Brazil, India and Indonesia. On the other hand, major emitters in the developed world, the United States, Canada and Australia, for example, are yet to announce similar targets.

China’s role in this regard has been similar to what it has been playing in the WTO. China’s annexation to the WTO was announced at the Doha ministerial meeting in November 2001. Its entry was accompanied by unprecedented commitments to cutting tariffs and non-tariff barriers. The particularly noticeable commitments were the deep cuts in agricultural tariffs and the transitional safeguards to other developing countries for responding to sudden spurts in Chinese exports.

By the time the action shifted to Cancun, agricultural tariffs in China had been cut to nearly half of such tariffs in other emerging markets and developed countries. China has frequently cited its extensive commitments to deeper market access as example of its lasting commitment to the multilateral trade system. This has been the plank on which it has been criticizing the lack of movement by developed countries in reducing subsidies on and domestic support to agricultural exports.

In a similar vein, by announcing unconditional commitments to carbon emission cuts, China has put developed countries on the wrong foot on the climate change action agenda. There will be considerable pressure on high carbon-emitting developed countries at Cancun, particularly the US, to spell out an action plan.

China has used the changing balance in global economic power for pushing a proactive position on climate change. Developing countries have been pressing for financial assistance for fulfilling their emission cut targets. On the other hand, the US and Europe will find it hard to contribute generously to the public fund that is expected to help developing countries mitigate the effects of climate change and reduce emissions. The surplus resources with developed countries after the global financial crisis are hardly enough to ensure sincere commitments in this regard.

China, India, Brazil and South Africa (BASIC countries) have formed a powerful coalition of emerging market economies, which is expected to take on the developed countries at Cancun on the road map for addressing climate change. The memories of G20 coalition on agriculture at WTO must be fresh in the minds of the BASIC countries. The BASIC group was part of G20 that took on the US and European Union on market access proposals on agriculture in the WTO ministerial meeting at Cancun in 2003. The aggressive posture of G20 on subsidies and special and differential treatment for developing countries led to a collapse of the talks on DDA.

Two months before the climate conference at Cancun, the BASIC countries met in Tianjin to develop a common strategy. The four countries have decided to urge developed countries to commit to ambitious reduction targets and contribute handsomely to a new global fund for meeting mitigation costs. They will also urge developed countries to fulfill commitments on technology transfers and not deviate from them on climate grounds.

The underlying circumstances at and the build-up to Cancun this time are too similar in terms of the North-South dynamics to be treated as purely coincidental. Will the outcome be the same as well?

By Amitendu Palit. The author is visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. www.chinadaily.com.cn

GHG emission reduction quantification hard to tackle in Cancun

Wednesday, December 1, was the third day of a 12-day climate change summit in Cancan, Mexico. For days, the participating parties have begun to consider mitigating and adapting to climate change, overseeing financial and technical resources and trying to work out long-term cooperative problem-solving approaches in the first phase of negotiations.

On the mitigation of climate change, i.e., reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, developed countries are urged mainly to reduce their short and medium-term emission reduction quantifications and provide developing nations with funds and other assistance to improve and popularize low-carbon technologies. Finance discussion, however, became stuck on ongoing disagreement about the role of discussion.

For the agenda of the first two days, the United States, Japan, Australia and other developed countries evaded their "climate debt" responsibilities and technology transfer, and instead insisted that China, India and other developing nations simultaneously reduce emissions. In a joint statement issued at the summit, the Group of 77 and China noted, however, that they will always adhere to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the "Kyoto Protocol", the "Bali Roadmap", the "common but differentiated responsibilities" principle, a two-track negotiation mechanism, and strongly urged the developed countries to assume their due responsibility effectively and take lead in the emission reduction.

Meanwhile, the least developed countries (LDCs) favor or endorse the stance and positions of the Group of 77 and China and they hope that the 1.5 percent of ANNEX I Parties’ gross domestic product (GDP) will be made available to the LDCs to help build capacity to address climate change.

A rise of 4 degrees Celsius could be seen as 2060 in a worse case scenario, according to a research project in elite Oxford University, Britain, and the research shows that, compared to the temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius, the rise of 4 degree Celsius will have a far greater impact on coastal cities, agriculture, water resources, ecosystems and migration. It is estimated that global average sea level will rise 14 to 44 centimeters at the end of 21st century, 1.1 billion to 3.2 billion people will experience acute water shortage, and some 200 million to 600 million people will go hungry then, provided countries do not take effective emission reduction measures.

At the UN Copenhagen climate summit held on Dec.7-18, 2009, countries reached a consensus trying to keep the rise in average global temperature to within 2 degrees Celsius at the middle of this century and signed the last-minute agreement at Copenhagen, so as to try to forestall the worst effect of global warming. At the ongoing UN Climate conference in Cancun, delegates from countries around the world continue consultations in an endeavor to achieve this goal.

Currently, developing nations have reached or are about to enter the stage of industrialization and, owing to the impact of technology, capital, population growth and other related factors, they cannot get rid of their reliance on traditional energy in the course of developing their economy in a short period of time. So, the medium and long-term reduction goals established by the developed countries are essential to holding the rise in temperature to within 2 degrees Celsius.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), emissions by the developed countries will be slashed by 25 to 40 percent from 1991 levels by 2020. But these developed countries nevertheless will only cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 15 percent by 2020, far less the 25 percent as previously prescribed.

Since the developed countries are reluctant to honor the long-term goal of controlling temperature rise, their commitment remains merely a sheer political will and, in the final analysis, it is a question of money.

Given the current unclear world economic recovery, the highlighted price factor and mastery of advanced energy saving technologies by developed countries, developing nations cannot rely solely on their own economic strength to achieve their emission reduction target, which requires developed countries to assume obligations for them to achieve transformation of the energy mix and provide financial assistance.

This in turn means that developed countries will provide to developing nations hundreds of billions of US dollars annually in direct financial aid and technology transfer. In a sense, huge economic costs behind the emission reduction issue pose a crux of matter hard to break in emission reduction qualification.

It is widely believed that parties are likely to continue their disputes unceasingly over this critical emission reduction issue at the Cancan climate summit. In this regard, Su Wei, deputy head of the Chinese government delegation and China’s chief climate negotiator, pledged that China will contribute in an active and constructive manner to the negotiations and help lay a good grounding and make ample preparations for reaching some sort of law-abiding document at the Cancun climate summit.

By People’s Daily Online and its author PD resident reporter in Mexico Zou Zhipeng, english.peopledaily.com.cn