The history of climate change negotiations is a long history of failed promises, and mandates that were not followed. It will probably not be possible to keep track of all the failed promises, but here a brief recount of the most important ones:

Convention promises

The mitigation promise: Developed countries committed themselves to take the lead in mitigation, and return by the end of the decade of the 90’s to earlier levels of GHG emissions. (cf art 4.2(a) of the Convention)

The reality: up till today, most of the developed countries that are not economies in transition not only didn’t reduce their emissions, but they actually increased them substantially1.

The equity promise: recognizing that developing countries had the major historical responsibility for the climate problem, that they have a lot better possibilities for attending the problem, and also that the first priority of developing countries is poverty eradication, the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ was established. (Art 3.1 Convention) Therefor, developing countries do not have the same kind of obligations as developed countries.

The reality: developed countries are demanding louder every year that developing countries take the same kind of commitments as themselves. E.g. countries like the US and Russia, among others, are demanding that several countries “graduate” to the category of Annex I countries (= developed countries). Several of the developing countries which they would like to see with equal obligations as themselves have per capita emissions of 4 to 8 times less than those of the US, and have majorities of their population under the poverty line.

Double-check the reality: in fact, developing countries in aggregate are promising to mitigate much more than developing countries: 3,6 – 5 Gigatons of GHG, while developed counties promised to do so only with 3 – 3,7 Gigatons2.  To be clear: developed countries were responsible for 73% of historical emissions, and are still today responsible for 41% of the yearly emissions3.

The finance promise: according to Art 4.3, developed countries were to provide new and additional, predictable and adequate funds for climate related actions. A financial mechanism was defined in 1992, which would also attend transfer of technology (art 11 of the Convention).

The reality: up till today, almost all climate finance has been the reprogrammed Official development Aid (ODA). It has always been insufficient, and never been predictable. The financial mechanism was never put in place. Even Cancun just defined the existence of the Green Climate Fund, but all the practical details, and most of all, the actual funds, still have to be decided upon.

Reality on new finance promises: In Copenhagen Fast Start Finance was promised, of 30 billion dollar for 3 years (that is 10 billion a year). Check the Fast Start Finance web page, and find out that only part of the money will be available. And then, only part of it is new and additional. Most of it is reprogrammed development aid of previous years!
The Green Climate Fund is supposed to ‘mobilize’ 100 billion dollars by 2020, but nobody can tell how much that would be in the period between 2013 and 2019. Furthermore, no country specific pledges were made, on the contrary, many countries are diminishing their climate finance, the US even scrapped them totally as a result of their debt crisis. It is also highly doubtful what ‘mobilize’ means: Ask developing country contributions? Mobilize private sector? Count carbon markets? Count loans? In any case, ‘mobilize’ is a far way from ‘provide and guarantee’.

The technology promise: developed countries committed to facilitate and finance, the transfer of environmentally sound technologies and know-how to developing countries (art 4.5)

The reality: during the almost 20 years of the Convention, developed countries have put in place a whole system of protection for their technologies, particularly through patents. They have been anxiously protecting their industry, so developing countries wouldn’t learn the technology.
The technology chapter of Cancun merely institutionalizes a ‘showcase’ for climate sound technologies, but actual transfer is not on its way.

The Kyoto Protocol

The mitigation promise: developed countries as a group promised to reduce their emissions from the 1990 baseline by 5% in average, during the period 2008-2012.

The reality: about 23 developed countries won’t be able to comply with their obligations and several already announced openly they wouldn’t even try. Among them in the first place the US, who voted in favor of the Protocol, but then never ratified it, and Canada, who already announced it will leave the Protocol. Others may follow.

The continuity promise: the Kyoto Protocol was designed to have ‘second and subsequent commitment periods’. The Protocol itself planned for the consideration of the second commitment period.

The reality: Most developed countries have openly stated they won’t accept a second commitment period. Only the EU says it might want a second commitment period, but conditions it to promises of commitments by developing countries.

The Mandate for the AWG-KP

The promise: The first decision taken by the conference of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol mandated a new working group to establish a second commitment period, ‘as early as possible, and in time to avoid a gap between the first and second commitment periods’.

The reality: Not only will it be impossible to avoid a gap, most developed countries – all of them who agreed with the decision to decide on a second commitment period – made clear they don’t want a second commitment period. Worse, they don’t even want to COMMIT to any kind of reduction target.

The Mandate for the AWG-LCA

The promise: In 2007, The Bali Action Plan gave a new mandate for a working group to ‘enable the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention through ling-term cooperative action and adopt a decision on its outcome in 2009’

The reality: In 2009, nothing was decided upon. In 2010, the Cancun Agreements were adopted as a partial implementation of the Bali Action Plan. Everybody agreed it was not enough, but many considered it ‘a little step forward’. Nevertheless, several elements of the decisions were inconsistent with the Convention and with the Bali Action Plan itself. No real answers were given to the central issue, on the contrary: there were no firm mitigation commitments, only some loose pledges, bringing the world on the edge of warming 4 degrees.

Double check the reality: the Cancun decision itself said that the Bali Action Plan mandate was not concluded. Nevertheless, only a few months later, developed countries wanted the work program for 2011 to be only on ‘implementing Cancun’. The Bali Mandate was not relevant anymore…

Triple check reality: where the BAP was seeking the implementation of the Convention, in the negotiations in Durban, developed countries are pressing to leave Convention, and seek a mandate to re-negotiate the Convention. Needless to say that several of the principles of the Convention will be swept of the table.

How do developed countries now think they can keep on promising, keep on seeking new mandates, while they have never fulfilled any?

The way they address the problem:

–       Blaming developing countries for any failure
–       State the impossibility to do anything if your wishes are not attended
–       Divide the developing world, and rule
–       Mislead press and public opinion
–       Make new promises

Would you believe in any new promise? Such as voluntary pledges? Or such as a new mandate?

I wouldn’t.



(1) See the latest update of GHG emissions published by the UNFCCC.
(2) The Implications of International Greenhouse Gas Offsets
on Global Climate Mitigation, SEI

(3) See the GHG emissions database of the World Recource Institute

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