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Ministers Missing in Action

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Ministers from all countries have been invited to Bonn, Germany, today in conjunction with the regular UNFCCC negotiating sessions to discuss how to increase efforts to reduce emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. Tomorrow Ministers will discuss the negotiations for a new agreement for the post-2020 period, but today the discussion is about actions to close the emissions gap in the pre-2020 period. Such actions are in short supply.

This KP Ministerial is a chance to reflect on past and current performance, especially from developed countries who had committed in 1992 to take the lead in reducing their emissions. The Kyoto Protocol was the mechanism developed to institutionalize that leadership.

So it is fair to ask – how successful were developed countries in leading the way in emissions reductions over the past 22 years since the Convention was agreed. It must be recognized that developed countries collectively and individually have failed to show the leadership that the world expected of them. In fact, emissions have increased substantially in many developed countries since 1992. The US never joined the KP, Canada withdrew in 2012, Australia and Japan have not signed up to a second commitment period and weakened their reduction targets, while the EU has maintained support for the KP but adopted weak targets.
So what does this mean for efforts going forward?

We are moving into a new phase of efforts under the UNFCCC, where all countries are expected to make commitments to control or reduce their emissions. If developed countries are to have any claim to leadership or moral authority on climate change, they will have to earn it. They have created a trust deficit, and must show much greater ambition, and demonstrate their trustworthiness in fulfilling their obligations. The first step would be for ministers to actually show up to Ministerial meetings and show they take this process seriously, even if it means taking some heat for past and current performance.

Of course the lack of ambition of developed countries could be the perfect excuse for the rest of the world to throw up theirs hands and refuse to do their part. But that is clearly not an option, especially in light of the most recent scientific findings in the IPCC and elsewhere. Surely no country would be so cynical in the face of a planetary emergency to hide behind the inaction of others.

In this context, the recent statements of intentions from the USA and China on coal emissions, and from other countries on ambitious renewable energy targets, are encouraging signs. In the context of the emissions reductions needed to get on track to staying below 2 degrees, these efforts are modest and far from sufficient. But they are encouraging signs that both countries are committed to scaling up their contributions to a global effort.

A shared global effort does not mean all countries are equal. Developed countries will still have primary responsibility for providing finance and other support to developing countries who need it. Countries who have the highest past and present per capita emissions and the greatest capability must still do much more in terms of their fair share.

Developing countries should no longer have a mindset of being reluctant players in someone else’s agenda. All countries are now fully aware of the scale of the global effort required and the need for urgent ambitious and equitable actions. Many developing countries are already playing more of a leadership role than developed countries.

In the context of a global crisis, the world should not be divided into leaders and followers.

Mark Lutes is a senior policy coordinator with the WWF Global Climate and Energy Initiative, based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Twitter: @MarkLutes

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