The Bali Roadmap: towards a new global climate change agreement
A crucial new phase in the international battle against global warming is about to start following the successful conclusion of December's United Nations climate change conference in Bali.
After two years of informal discussions, the 192 countries that are members of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reached consensus to draw up a new global agreement to tackle climate change. They also agreed on a 'roadmap' for the negotiations setting out the main issues to be tackled, and fixed an ambitious end-2009 deadline for concluding the deal. The European Union played a leading role in the conference and achieved the breakthrough it was looking for.
A new global agreement is urgently needed. First of all, there are currently no arrangements for what should be done after the Kyoto Protocol's emission targets expire in 2012. Secondly, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has shown that global warming is very likely to reach dangerous levels this century unless fast-increasing global emissions are cut sharply and rapidly.
The EU is adamant that the agreement must be guided by the latest scientific knowledge. This means it must aim to limit global warming to an average of no more than 2°C above the pre-industrial temperature because there is strong scientific evidence that irreversible and disastrous changes in the environment will become far more likely beyond this point. All the IPCC's projections indicate that without action to curb emissions the global temperature will rise further by up to 4°C – and as much as 6.4°C under the worst-case scenario - by 2100.
Keeping within 2°C will require a reduction in global emissions of at least 50% compared with 1990 levels by 2050. Developed countries must take the lead since they are responsible for most of the emissions to date. That is why the EU is proposing that developed countries collectively cut their emissions by 30% by 2020 and by 60-80% by 2050. The EU is ready to achieve a reduction of 30% if other developed countries sign up to comparable efforts under the new agreement. And it has made an unconditional commitment to cut its emissions by at least 20% by 2020 in order to reap the benefits in terms of energy security and competitiveness of becoming a highly-energy efficient, low-carbon economy. (In January 2008 the European Commission put forward a package of legislative proposals to implement these targets.)
The goal of the forthcoming international negotiations is to conclude the new global agreement at the UN climate conference to be held in Copenhagen in December 2009. The hope is that this will allow enough time for governments to ratify the agreement so that it can take effect by the end of 2012 when Kyoto's 'commitment period' ends.
The first round of negotiations will take place at the end of March and an intensive schedule is planned for the rest of the year with meetings every quarter – twice the normal frequency of UN climate talks. The final meeting of this year will be the next annual UN climate conference, taking place in Poznan, Poland, in December.
Stavros Dimas, the EU's Environment Commissioner, says the stakes in the negotiations could not be higher.
"With the rate of global warming accelerating, it is no exaggeration to say that the negotiations are almost certainly our last chance to prevent climate change from reaching devastating levels over the coming decades that could put the lives of millions of people in danger and impose a crippling burden on our economies," he said recently.
Like the informal discussions that have been going on since 2006, the negotiations will take place on two parallel 'tracks'.
One brings together all 192 Parties to the UNFCCC, who agreed in Bali to launch a "comprehensive process to enable the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention through long-term cooperative action, now, up to and beyond 2012." This process is known as the Bali Action Plan.
The other negotiating track groups the 177 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. It will focus on drawing up post-2012 emission commitments for the developed countries that have such targets under Kyoto. Australia joined the Protocol during the Bali conference, leaving the United States as the only developed country outside the Kyoto framework.
The idea is that the results of the two negotiating tracks will be brought together in Copenhagen to create a global agreement for post-2012 action.
The question of how ambitious the future agreement should be will be a key point for the negotiations. This issue was only partially addressed in Bali. The document agreed on the 'Kyoto track' negotiations notes that achieving the lowest level of emissions in the scenarios assessed by the IPCC would require developed countries to reduce their emissions by 25-40% of 1990 levels by 2020. This is very much in line with the EU's proposal of a 30% cut by developed countries by 2020. However, due to opposition by a number of developed countries the Bali Action Plan contains no explicit level of ambition, though it does recognise that "deep cuts in global emissions will be required."
In other respects the Bali Action Plan provides a strong starting point. It covers all the key issues the EU wants to see addressed in a global agreement, grouping them under four broad headings – mitigating emissions, adapting to climate change, transfer of clean technologies from North to South and mobilising finance to combat climate change.
For the EU, one of the key elements is the Bali Action Plan's recognition that all industrialised countries, including the US, have to take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and that these efforts should be comparable. The Action Plan also marks the first time that developing countries have accepted that they too will need to take action as part of the global effort. Their combined emissions are projected to overtake those of industrialised nations by around 2020.
Slowing and eventually reversing deforestation is a major priority because it is responsible for around 20% of global emissions – more than all forms of transport. At Bali it was recognised that incentives need to be developed to help governments, particularly in tropical regions, to reduce deforestation and its associated emissions. A range of demonstration activities is being launched to try out different solutions over the next two years so that the most effective ones can be included in the post-2012 agreement.
Strengthening and expanding the global carbon market is also vital, both to ensure that the deep emission reductions necessary can be achieved at least cost and to mobilise further investment in clean energy projects, particularly in developing countries. The EU's pioneering Emissions Trading System (ETS), which already accounts for some 80% of international carbon trading, should be a central pillar of the future global market. The Commission's recent proposals will reinforce this role by making the ETS more effective.
At the Poznan conference in December the Kyoto Protocol will be reviewed. The EU sees this as an important opportunity to build on experience with the Protocol so far and to strengthen it as a key element of the architecture of a post-2012 agreement.
The Bali outcome has provided a solid basis for the forthcoming negotiations but it is clear that reaching an effective new global deal by the end of 2009 which satisfies the sometimes widely differing interests and aspirations of 192 Parties will require a lot of hard work.
As Commissioner Dimas says, "The challenge is not just to reach a deal, but to ensure the agreement is ambitious enough to bring climate change under control."