The following text was written before the approval of the decision on the second commitment period. It was approved in the early hours of Sunday 11th December in Durban, as part of a more extented “Durban Package”.

In essence, all the analysis stayed the same. The only very remarkable point is that in the proposal, it the commitment period would have been 5 years. Now it is in doubt if it will be 5 or 8 years!

In the approved decision, it says:

1.  Decides that the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol shall begin on 1 January 2013 and end either on 31 December 2017 or 31 December 2020, to be decided by the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol at its seventeenth session;

Throughout the whole “proposed amendment Annex” the text has both options in brackets: e.g in 3.1bis: “(…) in the commitment period 2013 to [2017][2020]“. 

Thereby, it is fundamental to take into account that a reduction of 20% in an 8-year period, is in fact 50% less than 20% reduction in a 5 year period!

On all other issues, the analysis written before the approval of the text is unchanged.

(Original text)

The new text proposal for the Kyoto Protocol states that a second commitment period will be established. That seems good news; it was what everybody was waiting for.

But, a second commitment period for what? For the sake of having it? For the sake of carbon markets? For calming public opinion?
Let’s see the good points and the bad points of the actual proposal.

It establishes a second commitment period for five years. That’s good. But will it be real? Or is it just another false promise?

Adopting amendments or taking note of proposed amendments

Paragraph 3 generates a big confusion:

3. Takes note of the proposed amendments to the Kyoto Protocol developed by the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol as contained in Annexes 1, 2 and 3 to this decision;

Indeed, in Annexes are the proposed amendments. But, will the Climate Conference approve those amendments this year? Then why should the CMP “Take note” of the proposed amendments? The only correct thing to do if it wants a ‘secure’ a second commitment period, is to adopt the amendments now. All the rest are just vague promises. Indeed, nobody is bound by something that was just “taken note of”!

The fact that the proposed amendment has actually brackets in it, is the clearest proof that there is actually nothing decided on it!

Some general objectives or legally binding numbers?

Next doubtful point is that the text ‘takes note’ of the ‘economy wide emission reduction targets’, but they are not yet converted to QELROs1. Legally speaking, the only basis of commitment is a QELRO, which is very well defined how to measure it. The ‘promise’ is to convert them during the next year in QELROs. Will this be done?

Securing the second commitment period, or trying to do so?

10. Requests the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) to aim to deliver the results of its work pursuant to decision 1/CMP.1 in time to complete its work by the eighth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

That sounds pretty much like the 1/CMP1 itself, which stated that the AWG-KP “shall aim to complete its work and have its results adopted (…) as early as possible and in time to ensure that there is no gap between the first and second commitment periods;”

Well, that was promised 6 years ago, and its fulfilment has been postponed so many years by now, and so many deadlines have been passed, that repeating the same language doesn’t sound very credible right now.

Why do we need a second commitment period?

The world doesn’t need a second commitment period of the KP just for the sake of it. It needs it, because ambitious and binding mitigation commitments are terribly needed. The IPCC stated in its last report that developed countries in aggregate should reduce between 25 and 40% of their emission level of 1990. That was back in 2007, since then climate change symptoms have worsened at unpredicted speed.

One of the major benefits of the Kyoto Protocol, is that it had a ‘top down” approach: first define what is the aggregated level of mitigation needed, and then see how to share the task among the developed countries. That is why article 3.1 of the Protocol states that parties shall “reduce their overall emissions of such gases by at least 5 per cent below 1990 levels”. It is striking that the proposed amendment just fills out this number with a big X. The Peoples Agreement of Cochabamba demanded that this number should be 50. If that is impossible, it should at least be something within the IPCC range.

So, pledging to reduce 13-17%2 is not an answer to the world’s needs. Stating you pledge to this, with a 1,5 degree or even a 2 degree goal in mind, is just fooling the public opinion. Those pledges lead to a 4-degree increase.

But it becomes even worse checking the proposed amendment to Annex B, where all pledges should be listed, and verifying that several countries are not offering their pledges for this KP process: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Russia, and of course the US will not be part of the second commitment period.

Carbon markets in the KP decisions

More than offering a climate solution to the world, the ‘signals’ for the carbon markets have been a main reason why, despite so much anti-Kyoto feeling amongst developed countries, they are now kind of implementing a second commitment period.

It is known already that in one of the complementary decisions to the CMP there will be an expansion of projects eligible for the carbon markets. “Carbon capture and storage” (CCS) projects will be one of them. Those are projects with huge costs, which will generate an enormous amount of carbon credits, which will make the carbon prices sink even further, thus lowering incentives for domestic reductions in developed countries. But the worst is that CCS is a very insecure system: storing greenhouse gases under the ground, but with tremendous risks that those will escape sooner or later.

The escape for those who don’t like Kyoto, but do like its markets

During the first commitment period, only KP-parties could make use of Certified Emission Reductions (CERs, that is, market units) in order to comply with their commitments. The definition of “Party” in the Protocol itself made that so: “Party” means, unless the context otherwise indicates, a Party to this Protocol. And then, the rules for acquiring CERs where only applicable to “parties”, according to article 3.12.

But now, in the “proposed amendments” an article 3.12 bis and 3.12 ter will be introduced. In those articles it becomes explicitly possible for all Annex I parties to the convention, to acquire CERs in order to comply with their commitments.

Furthermore, those articles speak on “Any units generated from any market-based mechanisms to be established under the Convention”. In other words, the whole discussion that is stuck under the 1bv chapter in the AWG-LCA, is being resolved here in one line.

And of course, the winners are those who don’t commit to mitigate, but do want the benefits.

A second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol: a victory or a deception?

It seems the actual proposal resolves various anxieties of developed countries:

  • they can tell their constituencies they are keeping the so demanded KP
  • they can blame developing countries if they don’t accept this
  • they can extend the markets into time, expand the eligible project types, give the possibility for non-KP parties to buy carbon credits, and start organizing a whole new set of market mechanisms
  • and finally, they escape from giving the real answer to the imperative question the world is posing on them: ‘What about the NECESSARY mitigation commitments?’

Would it be that fulfilling the wish of developing countries and social movements to implement a second commitment period, the totally insufficient mitigation commitments are just considered “a detail”?

1 Quantified Emission Limitation or Reduction Objectives. Note as well that original KP language defined it as QELRCs: COMMITMENTS instead of Objectives.
2 and it are indeed the same old ‘pledges’ that have been on the table since Copenhagen. In footnote to the proposed annex B, it states:  “Further information on these pledges can be found in document FCCC/SB/2011/INF.1/Rev.1.”, which is the document with pledges produced after Cancun.


  1. Thanks for that explanation – it puts a lot of the hype going around into some sort of perspective. As expected, very little has come out of COP17 that we can actually celebrate as a victory for our planet. No, that’s wrong, the Earth will carry on, just her experiment with homo sapiens will have been a failure.

  2. Dae-Han Song (International Strategy Center, South Korea)

    Thank you so much for this breakdown and the ongoing coverage of COP 17. There were a few things that I needed clarification on:
    1) What would be the benefit to a state of being able to buy carbon credits, without signing onto the Kyoto Protocol?
    2) You are saying that the current phase of Kyoto Protocol had called for an overall 5% decrease in carbon emissions by Annex I countries, but that the proposal in COP 17 made no mention of such collective target by these countries.
    3) Is the proposal for a 13-17% reduction targets on an individual level or on a collective level (analogous to the 5% decrease)

  3. Thanks for your questions, those are good ones.
    1) At some point non-KP developed countries will also have some kind of “formalized pledge”, and (some of them) will try to comply with it. Now they will be able to do so through Kyoto Market Units.
    2) Indeed, see “proposed amendment” on paragraph 3.1 bis (page 8 in the adopted decision) (…) with a
    view to reducing their overall emissions of such gases by at least X per cent below 1990 levels in the commitment period 2013 to [2017][2020].
    Interesting also to see the brackets! Not only as a proof of the absence of consensus on this, but also on the level of ambition: it makes a huge difference to reduce 20% by 2017 or by 2020!
    3) 13-17% is on a collective level, but for ALL developed countries, of which many did’t suscribe the second commitment period. Many of the pledges are also conditional on behavior of other countries.

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