April 2011
By: Mostafa K.Tolba

A pivotal point in climate negotiations has always been the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’. This point continues to be a source of huge differences between developed and developing countries.
Developing countries insist that developed ones have historical responsibility and should cut emissions and provide developing countries with finances and technology. Developed countries ask, and rightly so, what about the current and the future?

If we want to move ahead to save our planet there must be real willingness to co-operate by the two groups, developing countries accepting part of the responsibility for current and future emissions, developed countries take full responsibility for past emissions. This can not be achieved without frank and open discussions between the two sides, talking to one another rather than past one another. Developing countries must realize that the total CO2 emissions by China in 2009 surpassed that of the biggest emitter, USA, and that emissions by India are similar to those by Japan or Russia.

The Cancun meeting was a crucial test of whether we are serious or not, albeit with much lower ceiling of expectations than Copenhagen. Unfortunately, it proved that we are not so serious. It ended with a modest agreement.

However, the fact that the Cancun Conference ended in an agreement, though not legally binding, gave a shot in the arm to the process of negotiations.

The Cancun Agreements give the 193 countries participating in the conference another year to decide whether to extend the frayed Kyoto Protocol. The success of the talks in Cancun allows the process to seek a more robust accord at the climate conference in Durban, South Africa, next year. The agreement sets up a new fund to help poor countries adapt to climate changes, creates new mechanisms for the transfer of clean energy technology, provides compensation for the preservation of tropical forests and strengthens the emissions reductions pledges that came out of the Copenhagen Conference.

This is alright, but it cannot lead to a legally–binding treaty if we do not start right now a series of non-stop informal consultations between the leading countries in both camps-developed and developing ones- those with very strong opposite positions.

The UN should not play the classic neutral role in this serious devastating situation. The UN should play the role of a global body concerned about serious global problems. It certainly should offer a neutral forum, but must also play a very active role in producing compromise formulations that bring together opposing views but does not compromise the issue itself. Too much is at stake to allow such useless negotiations to continue for ever. Between now and Durban at the end of 2011, governments have no option but to agree on a number of points:

1-A clear agreement between developed and developing countries about their understanding of what the “principle of common but differentiated responsibilities” means.

2- Specific targets for the GHG emissions in developed and developing countries: Developing countries need to be offered a grace period before applying the reductions required by a new treaty. Advanced developing countries (China, India, Brazil, South Korea, Malaysia, etc…) may have a shorter grace period than other developing countries, and certainly shorter than those for least developed countries and small island states.

3- Following on Copenhagen Accord, define specific figures for financing the new adaptation fund and set details of the technology transfer mechanism. Most affected countries should be supported urgently to adapt with the serious negative impacts of climate change. Both the Green Fund and Technology Transfer Mechanisms need to have balanced government structures for their management.

4. Resolve the issue of verification of emission reductions.

We need to know more, it is true. But we certainly know enough. We must stop the dialogue of the deaf.