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Rio+20 and COP 18: the international milestones of the international agenda in 2012

The year 2011 has been inconclusive with regards to the worldwide efforts to tackle global warming. After Canada announced its wish to leave the Kyoto Protocol, of which the current phase will end in December 2012, the Durban summit has endorsed the differences in views of the main groups of countries.

The international community has just reached acceptance on the idea of launching a process that is aimed to develop a new binding agreement by 2015 that will come into force by 2020. The functional aspect of the green background has been clarified, but its financing model still hasn't been defined at this moment.

The international agenda of 2012 is characterized by two major international events:
• The first one is the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development on June 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro, referred to as "Rio+20". This is the fifth "Earth Summit", an international event held every ten years under the aegis of the United Nations.
• The second is the 18th Conference of Parties (COP 18), from November 26 until December 7, for which Qatar is the controversial host.

Rio+20: What are the challenges?

The first main topic dealt in Rio is titled the green economy within the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. The formulation has a broad scope and the work on this subject will include areas as ecology and economic science, and will cover employment and business issues as much as issues concerning indicators and the evaluation of sustainable development. The recently elected French president, François Hollande, and France as an essential part of the European Union will pursue to hammer home a pro-active attitude on a green and fair economy as well as to obtain a worldwide commitment and shared understanding of these concepts.

The main European objective on this topic is the development of a roadmap for the United Nations on a green economy. The aim is to describe an international path in economic, social and environmental terms which will allow the implementation of the required transformations on sustainable development and on making poverty history. The goal of the roadmap is also to identify the actors that are best suited to act in favour of the sustainable development, the objectives, the monitoring mechanisms, but also a timetable to set up a common framework for action.

Together with the roadmap, the European Union will work on building a "green" toolbox. Therefore they will have to collect and formalize the best practices, both on the level of the actions implemented on the field by the different countries as well as on the level of the instruments, case studies and policies that allow promoting the transfer of the idea of sustainable development to its applications. The goal is to allow a more efficient distribution of the best practices, by centralising and sharing of the lessons learned in order to save time and improve the environmental efficiency for all the countries.

As an illustration, France has proposed to work on the development of new economic indicators that are more relevant than the GDP for measuring the economic, social and environmental development. This initiative with regards to the indicators had been initiated by France a couple of years ago and was concluded in September 2009 by the release of the final report of the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. The work and recommendations of this report will provide the first work basis for the construction of new indicators.

The second main topic of the Rio+20 conference is titled the Institutional framework for sustainable development. Its core deals with the issue of global governance of environmental subjects, which has showed its limits these last years. The current functioning of the international institutions in charge of the environment is at the end of its rope, because it is extremely complex and fragmented, with the scattered resources and the lack of a global vision. Currently a large number of conventions and scattered regional instruments exist, 'leftovers' of a time when the environmental question faced opposition in principle and when case by case in different territory should have been built, advancing first on modest consensus.

With regards to this topic, France and the European Union advocate the creation of a World Environment Organisation that would become a specialized agency of the United Nations in accordance with article 57 of the Charter. This WEO would be built based upon the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and have its headquarters in Nairobi. It would be an efficient international administrative tool that allows enforcing decisions derived from consultations and coordinating the different governmental initiatives on the environment. In its most ambitious form, the WEO could be the environmental equivalent of the WTO or the WHO, with compulsory contributions from each of the member countries, a dispute settlement body as well as the power to sanction polluters or countries that do not apply the conventions. François Hollande and his many allies for the creation of this WEO should, in particular, overcome the American, Russian and Brazilian resistance in order to avoid the status quo on this issue.

The climate summit of Doha: multiple challenges for the international community

The COP, the supreme body of the United Nations Framework Convention on climate change, will hold its 18th annual conference in Doha, capital of the country that has the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per capita of the planet. Besides the financial and diplomatic reasons that have obviously played their part in this decision, Qatar was able to become the organiser of the COP 18 because during these last years it has shown its willingness to reduce its own emissions and to financially help developing countries to adapt themselves to the effects of global warming.

The first major subject that can be resolved in Qatar is that of 'green' financing model. With regards to this subject, the vision of the emerging countries of the G77 is one of a Green Fund under the control of the Conference of Parties (COP), for state funding, that would operate through the allocation of grants to the least developed countries. However this vision conflicts with that of the developed countries. These last ones advocate a fund completely independent from the COP, for the majority financed by private funds in order to reduce the budgetary pressure on the states.

The third trading period on the European carbon market, also known as the European Trading Scheme (ETS) will start in 2013, while the price of carbon credits is currently so low that observers question the environmental efficiency of this system. The price per tonne CO2, which was at its highest in 2008 at 35€, is now around 6€, in particular because of the poor adjustment of the quota injected in the market compared to the weak economic activity. With prices below 10-15€, there is little incentive for industrial companies to invest in low-carbon equipment. Therefore it is up to the member states to invent measures to drive up the carbon price so that investments in emissions reductions become profitable again, which was the original goal of the ETS.

Just like at the COP 17 in Durban, the African countries will be the driving force with regards to the adaptation, i.e. the measures and policies to reduce the vulnerability to the inevitable effects of the climate change. Africa is indeed the continent for which the economic and social consequences of global warming are the most dramatic. The small island states threatened by the rise of the sea levels also support this cause, while continuing to strive for quantified objectives for very drastic emissions reductions.

Finally, as the Kyoto protocol has been extended, but lost its meaning because of the absence of the largest polluting countries, the COP 18 will be a milestone and crucial stage in the negotiation process started in Durban, to see a new binding agreement emerging to which all the major members of the international community will participate.

Both in Rio de Janeiro and in Doha, the differences and the obstacles on the path to an agreement between the main stakeholders will be numerous. The spectre of the failure in Copenhagen is still present, and according to all the observers, the status quo would be the worst case scenario. While the economic crisis has pushed back the ecological issues in the media - there absence in the French presidential campaign was notices - it has certainly not caused the disappearance of global warming nor the environmental urgency. Europe and France will have to demonstrate great pro-active efforts to make things happen.

Sia Partners

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