The United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC) has begun in Durban, South Africa, where about 10,000 officials from 194 countries will meet in a bid to arrive at a new climate change deal.
The conference, which will be held between Nov. 28 and Dec. 9, is the latest attempt at a global climate treaty after last year's conference in Copenhagen turned out to be an epic waste of time, with no real deliverables. In addition, the conference will look for options to raise $100 billion a year for the Green Climate Fund, which aims to help countries cope with global warming.
With the Kyoto Protocol ending in 2012, there is not much time left to negotiate a follow-on treaty, but heading into the conference, the political will to do so seem virtually nonexistent, Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov wrote in a note to clients.
Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This amounts to an average of five percent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.
Today, however, given the debt crisis engulfing the U.S. and Eurozone, it is unlikely that those regions will propose new measures that may dampen their own growth prospects. Nevertheless, all eyes will be on the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases - the U.S. and China. The latter is unwilling to make any commitments until Washington does.
On the other hand, the U.S., which never ratified Kyoto, is expected urge emerging economies to bear more responsibility for reducing greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, Russia, Japan and Canada say they will not sign up to a second commitment period unless the world's biggest emitters do too.
Recognizing that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.
Meanwhile, Kyoto's two major shortfalls are: it explicitly excluded developing countries from binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions; and it was never ratified by the U.S.
To be effective in capping CO2 emissions, any post-Kyoto agreement must encompass both the major emerging markets and the U.S., and therein lies the rub, Molchanov said.
China and India rejected the notion of being subjected to internationally binding emissions cuts at their current stage of development and it is abundantly clear that the U.S. Senate will not ratify any such agreement that doesn't cover China and India.
Between 1990 and 2010 - essentially the timeframe covered by Kyoto - emissions are down modestly in industrialized countries but are up massively in China and other developing countries. During this period, the European Union's aggregate emissions are down 7 percent, Russia is down 28 percent, the U.S. is up 5 percent and Japan is flat.
In 1990, industrialized countries comprised about two-thirds of global emissions and, as of 2010, their share was down to less than half. Thus, any post-Kyoto deal that excludes developing countries would be fundamentally deficient in curbing emissions, the analyst said.