UN Admits Time Has Expired For Post-Kyoto Climate Agreement

The United Nations on Monday admitted what everyone knows: international climate talks will not reach agreement on a binding treaty for cutting carbon emissions before the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

The admission, made by Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N.’s climate secretariat, came during day one a new round of climate talks in Bonn, Germany.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, 40 industrialized nations signed a binding agreement for a preliminary phase of relatively small carbon emissions cuts for the period 2008-2012. 

Negotiations for a second phase have been underway since 2008, but have made little progress. Developing nations want richer nations to expand and continue their pledges, and industrialized nations want to start over with a new agreement that includes fast growing economies like India and China, as well as the US, which never ratified its participation in the Kyoto pact.

"Even if they were able to agree on a legal text … that requires an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, it requires legislative ratifications on the part of three-quarters of the parties, so we would assume that there’s no time to do that between [the 2011 climate conference in] Durban and the end of 2012," says Figueres.

But she adds that UN countries have realized the failure and  are "involved in constructive negotiations" to deal with the regulatory gap that will occur at the end of 2012.

If a solution is not worked out, the regulatory gap could have a destructive effect on the global carbon market, through which advanced countries currently offset their emissions by paying for low carbon development and emissions cuts in developing nations.

The carbon market already is struggling from a loss of political momentum and an oversupply of carbon credits because of the recession. In 2010, the market declined for the first time in five years.

The US is largely to blame for the fact that international negotiations have failed. Republicans in Congress continue to undermine Obama administration attempts to live up to its pledge to cut US emissions 14% below 1990 levels. And the rest of the world is unwilling to accept continued or larger emissions cuts if the US does not participate.

However, Jonathan Pershing, head of the US delegation, insists the US is not at fault. "The fact that it’s such a difficult battle, so much of an uphill discussion, suggests to me the problem is not the United States but others who are not yet ready to move forward on commitments they’ve made," he says.

Protections Needed for Climate Refugees

Meanwhile, the head of the U.N. refugee agency says the world must find ways to protect refugees driven from their homes by worsening climate conditions. 

Since the movement patterns of climate refugees are different from those that are victimes of conflicts or political oppression, new programs are needed beyond those put in place in 1951, Antonio Guterres, High Commissioner for Refugees, told Reuters.

For instance, farmers forced to leave their fields behind due to drought will move into urban areas. The same people, if affected by political conflict, would cross national borders, searching for protection. 

Guterres says the refugee camps and aid systems currently deployed for political refugees will be of little use for climate adaptation.

He says individual nation states will be largely responsible for dealing with their own urban influx and will need a "massive program of support."

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