Climate change

Kyoto Protocol extended to 2020 to fight climate change

World's largest carbon emitter fails to live up to global expectations by not taking lead to rescue struggling climate-change talks in Qatar

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 May, 2016, 5:01pm

Almost 200 nations yesterday extended a weakened UN plan to fight global warming until 2020, averting a new setback to two decades of UN efforts that have failed to halt growing global greenhouse gas emissions.

The eight-year extension of the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 keeps it alive as the sole legally binding plan for combating global warming. But the agreement was sapped by the withdrawal of Russia, Japan and Canada, so its signatories now account for only 15 per cent of global emissions.

"I thank you all for good will and hard work in moving the process forward," conference president Abdullah Hamad Al-Attiyah said at the end of marathon talks.

But Moscow's delegate Oleg Shamanov said Russia, along with Belarus and Ukraine, opposed the decision to extend the Kyoto Protocol. Russia wanted less stringent limits on unused carbon emissions permits.

A package of decisions, known as the Doha Climate Gateway, would also postpone until next year a dispute over demands from developing nations for more cash to help them cope with global warming.

All sides say the Doha decisions fell far short of scientists' recommendations for tougher action to avert more floods, droughts and rising sea levels.

Hopes that China - the world's largest carbon emitter and second-largest economy - would take the lead to save the talks this year had quickly faded.

China teamed up with other emerging economies to push for a clear timetable on a promised tenfold increase in financial aid - US$100 billion a year by 2020. The demands met strong opposition from the US, Europe and other developed nations, all struggling with economic woes at home.

Otherwise, China did not break the stalemate in the talks, with its diplomats described as being careful and cautious in the negotiations.

"China is sitting on the fence," said Dr John Schellnhuber, director of Germany-based Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who observed the talks.

"No one seems to be certain of what the country's new leadership is up to in terms of tackling climate change. Even the diplomats … are negotiating with a wait-and-see attitude."

Most observers appear pessimistic that China will undertake a leadership role any time soon. They say China is not likely go out of its way to commit to binding emissions caps simply because the effort to control global warming hinges on the country.

Li Junfeng , who heads the country's top government-backed think tank on climate issues, said it is time for China to transform itself from a game changer to a first mover in the climate talks because such changes are in the nation's best interest.

Li is the director of the National Strategic Research and International Co-operation Centre for Climate Change, which is affiliated with the powerful National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top body in charge of energy and climate policies.

"Cutting emissions is the only possible solution to a long list of development woes as a result of the blind pursuit of high growth rates for decades," he said, warning that the country's carbon emissions will account for 40 per cent of the world's total by 2020. Such unorthodox views are rarely expressed by mainland officials, especially on such a politically charged issues.

Many believe that Li's remarks underline deep-running differences among government officials over what kind of role a rapidly rising China should play on the international stage.

They say the fact there has been debate within the government on the issue shows that the Communist Party's new leadership may be inclined to reconsider the previous knee-jerk rejection of anything that might oblige China to take on more international responsibility.

Additional reporting by Associated Press and Reuters