Posted on 18 September 2020
There are more than 50 countries who could take the honour of putting the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol's Second Commitment Period over the top - but only two weeks remain to do so, writes Mark Lutes.
As our parents often reminded us, it is always good to finish what you start. This also applies to international cooperation, where the global community has less than three weeks to finish what they started back in Doha, Qatar in 2012. The deadline is 2 October 2020.
When Parties agreed to the Doha Amendments to the Kyoto Protocol, they also implicitly committed to follow through and bring them into force, through ratification.
As of this writing, 140 Kyoto Parties have ratified the Doha Amendments, of the 144 required to bring it into force. So we have three weeks to achieve the final four ratifications. There are more than 50 candidate countries who could be vying for the honour of putting it over the top.
This is about more than just tying up loose ends, and more than avoiding an embarrassing gap in the global climate regime because not enough countries could be bothered to push their ratifications through. It is also about demonstrating that they take seriously the pre-2020 period and its commitments that end this year. And it is about putting the Paris regime on solid foundations.
The Kyoto Protocol is from an era when it was possible to imagine using the full force of international law and binding global regimes to address pressing global problems.
Under the Climate Convention and Kyoto, those parties with the greatest responsibility for causing the problem and capacity for action, represented at the time by the developed countries listed in Annex 1 of the Convention, would adopt binding quantitative emissions reduction commitments. This was intended, in some unspecified way, to set the tone for strengthening the global effort in subsequent phases.
This started to unravel soon after the Kyoto climate summit with the refusal of the USA to ratify and be bound by an agreement in which China in particular was not given equivalent treatment, because it was a developing country. In Doha in 2012, they reached agreement on amending the Kyoto Protocol with a new round of commitments for most of the Annex 1 (developed) countries for 2013 to 2020. These binding quantitative targets under the Kyoto Agreement for 36 developed countries were complemented by Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) for developing and other developed countries.
In 2015 the new agreement “applicable to all” was signed in Paris and created a framework for the post 2020 global regime. The Paris Agreement’s “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDCs) owe more to NAMAs than to the Kyoto Protocol’s binding commitments. The rules for NDC implementation are still being worked out, including trading of mitigation outcomes under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement (also known as “carbon trading”).
A key question in carbon market negotiations is whether countries can continue to have single-year targets and how to convert them to Kyoto-like carbon budgets for the entire commitment period, to allow environmental integrity in the context of emissions trading.
Article 3 of the Paris Agreement states that “The efforts of all Parties will represent a progression over time.” If the Doha Amendments fails to enter into force, they will become essentially voluntary goals without legal force. If the final ratifications are forthcoming and the commitments become legally binding, they could become an important precedent for NDCs. If there is no backsliding from Kyoto type targets, the gold standard for NDC commitments will be economy-wide multi-year carbon budgets, rather than single-year targets, particularly as a condition to participate in trading of mitigation outcomes under Article 6.
The credibility and integrity of the global climate regime can only be strengthened by bringing the Kyoto second commitment period into force and avoiding an 8-year gap in the legally binding climate regime. Surely there are another four countries somewhere in the world who care enough about the global climate regime to push ratifications over the finish line.
Here is a non-exhaustive, indicative list of those countries who could be leading candidates to ratify by Oct 2 - based on. among other things, the concerns they or their negotiating groups have expressed about the need for entry into force, and the relative absence of wars or pressing crises of governance which could justifiably impede completing the ratification process:
Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Bolivia, Iran, Suriname, Jamaica, Nepal, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Russia, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Cape Verde, Andorra, Albania, Montenegro, Moldova.
Mark Lutes is Senior Advisor Global Climate Policy for WWF.