A funeral for the Kyoto Protocol?

I met Vijay Iyer yesterday. Vijay is the World Bank’s Director of Energy and Sustainable Development. He told Honourable Eziuche Ubani and me a funny story. Ubani had asked him what his assessment of the negotiations was. “Are we making progress?” he asked. Vijay smiled. He asked if we had noticed how everybody is so nice to each other here at the climate change negotiations. Ubani and I didn’t know why. He told us that it was normal for people to be kind to each other during funerals. “The climate negotiation in Durban is like a funeral for the Kyoto Protocol”, he said.

The only legally binding agreement to reduce the emissions of harmful gases that cause global warming met its slow and painful death here in the beautiful South African city of Durban. First, it was the Americans that rejected this treaty in 1997. And because the treaty excluded developing countries, some of the world’s biggest polluters, China, India and Brazil were also left off the hook. Today, the combative American congress is less likely to accept any binding obligation to reduce their emissions, especially if China and the big developing economies are left out of the deal.

Before the Durban conference, Japan’s position was already very clear. The world’s third largest economy will not be part of any renewal of this deal, if China and the fast growing developing economies are left out. But it was Canada that took the oxygen out of any hope that this treaty will be renewed. The announcement that Canada will not be part of a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol unplugged the life support from the only binding agreement to reduce emissions that result in the sort of floods that hit Lagos and Ibadan this year.

For our Nigerian delegates and some NGOs, the Kyoto Protocol has become a strong emotional issue. We have been told that this is the main concern for the African Group and the Group of 77 and China. And since our national delegates have been told that we have no national interests in these negotiations except to support Africa, many loiter around this expansive conference centre with their heads down. In corridors, cafeterias, side events and shopping malls, wherever you find Nigerians, it’s all talk about Kyoto this, Kyoto that.

A new agreement or renewal of the treaty to reduce global emissions in a substantial way would be of benefit to Nigeria. But a new Kyoto treaty that binds only a handful of countries that together make up less than one quarter of global emissions is meaningless to Nigeria. Any agreement that leaves out the two biggest emitters – China and the United States is not in Nigeria’s interest.

For a long time, the big developing economies of China, India and Brazil has been hiding behind our back. Yes, of course, many of them still have poor people in their country. We also accept that rich countries have contributed historically to the build up of these harmful gases. But it will be mindless for us to accept that countries who today pile up the bulk of these dangerous gases should not be obliged to reduce them consistent with their national circumstances. But because our leaders are out of touch with our own interests and realities, we are told to support China and India and sing the songs of African solidarity when our house is on fire.

Perhaps we should talk about some other things. The Nigerian delegation was livid today because our minister, Mrs Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafia made a good speech to the plenary. In her speech, she listed the accomplishments of the government on climate change. Particularly, the minister told the world audience that the National Assembly has passed the Bill to Establish the National Climate Change Commission and that President Goodluck Jonathan will soon sign this bill into law.

The rest of the world cannot understand why the President cannot sign the climate commission bill one year after the national assembly forwarded it to him. That the minister committed the president to signing the bill is a positive sign. The world will hold her to her word.

Ewah Otu Eleri Executive Director, International Centre for Energy, Environment & Development