Vol 9 - No. 6




Misinformation or Disinformation?


Call it misinformation or disinformation. The industrialised countries are insisting that the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 and that the foundations of a new treaty, the so-called post-Kyoto agreement, should be laid at the forthcoming UN climate change conference.

Nothing could be further from the truth. “The Kyoto Protocol is not yoghurt, it does not have an expiry date,” says a senior negotiator. The fact is that only the first commitment period of Annex I (developed countries) Parties' greenhouse gas emission reductions, which began in 2008, ends in 2012. All other provisions and elements of the Kyoto Protocol remain in force. This is how the Kyoto Protocol is structured.

The second and subsequent commitment periods for Annex I Parties are to be negotiated on an ongoing basis, explains Lim Li Lin, a Legal Adviser and senior researcher with the Third World Network.

“The truth should come as no surprise,” says Lin in a paper distributed by the South Centre, an intergovernmental think-tank of developing countries. Since 2006 the international community has been negotiating the next commitment period for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol in a working group known as the Ad hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP).

These negotiations are scheduled for completion in 2009, so that the second commitment period can enter into force by 2013, thereby ensuring there is no gap between the two commitment periods. The negotiations are not about ending the Kyoto Protocol, but implementing it.

In Dec 2007 at the global climate change conference in Bali, the international community launched a second track of negotiations in parallel under the ‘Bali Action Plan' - The Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA).

This working group aims to enhance the implementation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the framework agreement, under which the Kyoto Protocol sets out specifically how much Annex I countries should reduce their emissions by, and how. The AWG-LCA's work is to be concluded in 2009, and the agreed action will be for "now, up to and beyond 2012".

The AWG-KP is a negotiating track under the Kyoto Protocol. The AWG-LCA is a negotiating track under the Convention. The understanding is that there will be two outcomes in Copenhagen, and they are to be legally and substantively distinct.

For the AWG-KP, the legal outcome is clear -- an amendment of the Kyoto Protocol according to the mandate clearly set out in its Article 3.9 for the amount of emission reductions by industrialised countries in their subsequent commitment period.

Twelve proposals for amending the Kyoto Protocol have been submitted by Parties to the UNFCCC convention. These will be discussed Dec 7-18 in Copenhagen, where an agreed amendment should be adopted at the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

For the AWG-LCA, the legal outcome is less certain. Discussions are still under way. The Bali Action Plan only specifies that an "agreed outcome" should be reached and a decision should be adopted in Copenhagen.

There are a number of options ranging from a decision of the Conference of the Parties (COP) or a set of COP decisions, to another international treaty or Protocol under the Convention -- also referred to as the "ratifiable outcome" by the UNFCCC Secretariat and some countries.


Some industrialised countries want to have one single agreement -- or lay the foundations for it -- in Copenhagen, merging the two negotiating tracks and outcomes. Precisely this will mean the termination of the Kyoto Protocol after 2012.

This stance has been advocated by a number of developed countries including Japan and Australia. The United States has said it will not become a Party to the Kyoto Protocol.

The Conclusions of the European Union Council on its position for Copenhagen refer to a "single legally binding instrument" and emphasises the need for "a legally binding agreement for the period starting 1 January 2013 that builds on the Kyoto Protocol and incorporates all its essentials, as an outcome from Copenhagen in December 2009".

In effect, the EU is calling for the end of the Kyoto Protocol after the first commitment period.

Initially, it seemed that the main motivation for this position by some developed countries is to force "major economies/emitters" or "advanced developing countries" -- among others, China, India, Brazil, South Africa -- to also take on internationally binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by dismantling the distinction between Annex I and non-Annex I countries and lifting some developing countries toward the level of commitments taken on by the developed countries.

The Kyoto Protocol sets quantified targets only for Annex I (industrialised) countries, and the category of Annex I countries is established under the Convention.

However, it now seems that the motivation may also be for some developed countries to lower the level of their commitments or avoid taking on internationally binding emission reduction commitments altogether.


This mirrors the position of the U.S., which has recently been insisting on taking on emission reduction commitments/actions on a unilateral or domestic basis. By this, it means that it will only bind itself domestically through national legislation to reduce its emissions, and will not commit internationally -- as other industrialised countries have -- to a multilateral system of emission reductions. It also means that its national target will only be what it determines itself, and is not subject to negotiation with the international community.

The U.S. withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, but it remains a Party to the Convention. Under the Bali Action Plan, which the U.S. agreed to, it is required to undertake efforts comparable to those of other Annex I countries under the Kyoto Protocol.

The details are being worked out in the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action.

This is the concession the international community has already granted to the U.S. not least because it the biggest historical emitter of greenhouse gases and continues to be among the largest polluter on an absolute and per capita basis.

“It may be that the U.S. position has spurred a race to the bottom instead of drawing in the U.S. to join the rest of the Annex I countries though the ‘comparability of efforts’ provision in the Bali Action Plan,” says Lin. “The special treatment of the U.S. may be instigating a ‘great escape’ from the Kyoto Protocol by the other developed countries.”

This has grave implications. The Kyoto Protocol is the only legally binding international law that sets quantified commitment targets for each Annex I Party to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. There is an aggregate target, which all Annex I Parties must collectively meet in a given commitment period, and an individual -- or joint, in the case of the European Community -- target for each country.

These specific targets must be met within a specified time period, and there are international compliance measures if the Parties do not meet their targets according to the timetable.

Lin argues that the Kyoto Protocol has many flaws but the prospect of losing the only international treaty that requires specific amounts of emission reductions by Annex I Parties, with a binding timetable and compliance measures is hazardous, particularly because there is no better alternative in place and the prospects of achieving this seem increasingly slim.

In fact a failure to agree on subsequent commitment periods will be a violation of international law. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Parties are required to establish second and subsequent commitment periods for Annex I Parties.

Article 3.9 provides that, "Commitments for subsequent periods for Parties included in Annex I shall be established in amendments to Annex B to this Protocol, which shall be adopted in accordance with the provisions of Article 21, paragraph 7”.

“Under the single new agreement that some developed countries are proposing, the nature of the commitments may be different -- nationally binding targets, as opposed to internationally binding targets. This would be a drastic downgrading of international disciplines, and would take the international climate change regime many steps backwards,” warns Lin.

If the Kyoto Protocol is abandoned and a single new agreement negotiated, this will mean risking that the new international climate change treaty may take many years to enter into force or may never enter into force, if insufficient countries ratify it. The negotiations will be more complicated and controversial, and could also likely take a very long time. This is something that the planet and the poor cannot afford, adds Lin.

The international compliance regime under the Kyoto Protocol also faces an uncertain future. While it can always be further improved, the risk is now the possibility of no longer having a system of international compliance.

Legally, it is difficult to terminate the Kyoto Protocol because all Parties have to agree by consensus to end it. Aware of this, some developed countries are working on innovative technical solutions which, however, would seriously damage responsible global climate diplomacy.

Success in Copenhagen and beyond requires an effort to bridge the implementation gaps that have undermined effective action and left a legacy of mistrust among the Parties. Nothing less than full implementation by developed countries will be required to secure success in Copenhagen and to provide the foundation for a genuine partnership among all countries to curb climate change and to achieve the ultimate objectives of the UN Convention.


Ramesh Jaura is chief editor of IDN-InDepthNews and GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES that belong to the GLOBALOM MEDIA group.

Copyright © GLOBALOM MEDIA 2001-2009
Publisher and Managing Editor: Suresh Jaura
Hosted and webdesigned by GLOBALOM MEDIA
Disclaimer and Privacy Policy