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Doha Climate Summit Ends, Did They Manage to Save the World? Here's What You Need to Know

Like last year’s Durban climate summit, three distinct negotiating streams produced three overlapping but independent agreements.

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Shamanov seemed more frustrated about being disregarded than he was about the outcome of the negotiations.  The Russian Federation’s area of concern, however, was the carryover of surplus “assigned amount units” (AAUs) from the end of the first period of the protocol to the new second period.  These are permits assigned for allowable emissions that were not redeemed during the first period of the protocol and which now can be sold to countries in the second period as a way of offsetting their required emission reductions under the protocol.  Surplus AAUs (sometimes called “hot air”) are held predominantly by Russia and other eastern European countries, whose economies collapsed after the fall of Communism resulting in credits for carbon emissions which they never produced, but which would have been allowable for them to produce given an assessment of the size of their economy before the protocol went into effect.  Russia insisted that unused permits be transferred to the second period.

The new agreement does in fact allow carryover of hot air (although this was opposed by many, including blocks of countries such as the Least Developed Countries and the Alliance of Small Island States), and both Al-Attiyah and Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, stated in their  final press briefing that when the Russian delegation returns home and has a moment to review the final documents, they will realize that the outcome was not at odds with their interests.

Although the outcome document does allow transfer of surplus AAUs to the second commitment period, it tries to limit their environmental damage by imposing that countries “may acquire units from other Parties’ previous period surplus reserve accounts into its previous period surplus reserve account up to two per cent of its assigned amount for the first commitment period” (paragraph 26,  outcome document).

Moreover, in a heartening display, parties including Australia, the EU, Japan, Lichtenstein, Monaco, Norway, and Switzerland pledged  during the final negotiations not to purchase them.  Their statements are included in Annex II of the outcome document.  Here is Mark Dreyfus of the Australian delegation:

“While it is important that countries receive recognition for overachieving on their targets, the volume of surplus AAUs carried over to the second commitment period could be as high as seven billion tons. The unrestricted use of these surplus first commitment period AAUs risks meaningful climate change efforts to 2020. We will help ensure the environmental integrity of the Kyoto Protocol and countries’ emission reduction objectives by restricting demand for first commitment period AAUs through nationally appropriate arrangements. Australia will not purchase AAUs carried over from the first commitment period.”

The second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol will have a negligible effect on global emissions, as the countries that are now bound by it account for  less than 15 percent of global emissions.  But it is not useless.  As we have argued  previously, the new period will not merely fill the gap until the beginning of the 2020 agreement.  By keeping market-based mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) intact, it also will serve as a basis for a globally binding treaty and a working carbon market in 2020.  Figueres, in the  final UNFCCC press conference on Saturday, said while the second period of the protocol will likely not cover 10-12 percent of emissions, it is the lead-up to a treaty that will cover all global greenhouse gas emissions.  She said:

“There is an ever-increasing gap between the action of countries and what the science tells us. That is why it was so important for the Kyoto Protocol to go into its second commitment period because what it has done is ensured that there is going to be environmental integrity and very robust accounting systems that will be able to be used by all countries in the new agreement.”

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