Monthly Archives: October 2014

What matters: How will countries interpret CBDR at COP20?

Looking back at the past COPs, one of the critical issues among international climate change negotiations has been a harsh contradiction between the developed countries and the developing countries. In order to understand the contradiction, understanding the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities “(CBDR) is very important. CBDR is the core principle described in Article 3.1 of The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which was adopted in 1992. CBDR was asserted strongly by developing countries, and it means that we all have common responsibilities in regard to climate change, but that what we need to do must be differentiated according to our own circumstances and capabilities. The difficulty of understanding CBDR is that we do not have a simple interpretation of this concept because the world we faced in 1992, when this concept was created, is totally different from the world we face today.

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, who has led the United States in global climate talks since 2009,  made it clear in his speech on Oct. 14. at Yale University that he will reject any deal based on an interpretation from CBDR that involves differentiation between Annex 1 (developed countries) and Non-Annex 1 (developing) countries. His argument is that today’s context is different than 1992 when CBDR was first written. Stern stated, “Conceptually, we have no problem at all with CBDR and respective capabilities. We see it as an appropriate and enduring principle…Basing the new agreement in form or content on immutable 1992 categories cannot be justified, and insisting on that kind of backwards-facing structure would be a deal-breaker.” He also pointed out that China, a member of non-Annex 1 countries, is not just the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, it is the second largest historic emitter today.

The similar interpretation of CBDR by Stern can be seen in other developed countries such as Japan (Annex 1 country). Japan’s recent submission to Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action of UNFCCC on Oct 14 says, “Japan stresses the significance of “applicable to all” as the key concept of the 2015 agreement and believes that common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC) should be interpreted in the context of the current world as a dynamic concept. Japan does not support a binary approach based on Annexes.” In contrast, China has been insisting that the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities, equity and respective capabilities must be upheld in the negotiations and final outcome of the 2015 agreement.

I believe that CBDR will sustain continuously as an established principle of UNFCCC. However, we need to pay attention to how countries interpret the CBDR and reflect it in the outcome documents of COP20.

China’s Carbon Tax

China has surpassed the US and become the world’s greatest CO2 emitter. In recent years, air pollution in China has become a serious issue, especially in major cities. China is considering and undertaking multiple methods to solve its environmental problems, including reconsidering a carbon tax.

Over the past five years, China has evaluated the feasibility of a carbon tax. In October 2009, the Chinese Ministry of Finance reported that China would consider applying carbon tax in five years. In 2012, proposals for a new environmental taxation system were submitted to the Ministry of Finance, including suggestions on how to implement a greenhouse-gas emission tax for selected energy consumers by 2015. However, the report also indicated that the plan might be changed according to specific political and economic conditions.

To date, there are still several challenges that the carbon tax is facing. First, the pricing of a carbon tax is difficult to calculate. Policy-makers mostly agree that the carbon tax should start from a relatively low level and gradually increase over time. However, there is still no consensus on the final decision. Second, China is also considering a general environmental tax, as environmental problems, such as poor air conditions and water pollution, are currently the main focuses of the government and the public. Concerns about including carbon into the mix include that carbon emissions are coming from the same or similar sources as other pollutants and that too much pressure might be put onto companies’ shoulders. Third, since a great part of carbon emission in China comes from manufacturing goods that will eventually be exported to other countries, there has been discussion about whether it should be China, the producer, or consumer countries to take the responsibility.

A carbon tax might work as an effective way to supplement the emission trading system, which is under a trial period in some pilot cities in China now. However, when and how to launch a carbon tax system is still under cautious evaluation, and from my personal perspective, there is little possibility that such a system will be launched in a short term, especially on the national scale.

Environmental Issues from the Prospective of the Conference of the Parties Host: Peru

The Duke University UN Practicum is excited to head to Lima to learn firsthand about what climate issues are the most pressing globally, but it is important to take a step back to consider what environmental issues Peru is facing in order to better understand the challenges of our host country.

Peru has the second largest share of the Amazon Basin accounting for 13% of the total area. With such an important biodiversity hotspot and carbon sink within its boarders, deforestation in Peru, which is estimated at 370,000 acres annually, is of particular concern. Illegal logging has caused extensive environmental degradation across the Peruvian Amazon and 4/5ths of all timber exports from Peru have been harvested illegally according to the World Bank. Illegal logging has reached a boiling point and recently become headline news after the murder of four indigenous activists who advocated against illegal logging within their communities. Because the country lacks resources to administer its timber regulations effectively and due to lack of demand for certified forestry products, widespread deforestation will continue to take an environmental and human toll on Peru.

A more recent environmental issue Peru has been forced to address is illegal mining. Over 20% of gold mined in Peru is from non-sanctioned sources which has cleared over 120,000 acres of forested land. Undocumented mining, like illegal logging, has caused violence within Peruvian communities as well, which has pressured the Peruvian military to combat the issue. Peru’s neighbor Colombia is also having problems controlling illegal mining as last May, the collapse of an illegal mine killed ten workers. Illegal mining is especially egregious because the profits from these activities have been linked to financially supporting the activities of extremist groups in South America.

Aside from violence and deforestation, mining has also caused contamination in many of Peru’s already strained water systems. Byproducts, such as heavy metals and sulphuric acid, are generated during the mining process and find their way into municipal water systems through groundwater, lakes, and rivers. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, in Peru only around 87% of urban populations and less than 62% of rural Peruvians have access to safe drinking water so the compromise of these already strained resources would be extremely detrimental to Peruvian communities.

With these environmental issues in mind, we can see how the issues faced by Peru domestically will fit into the framework of the greater United Nations Conference of the Parties.