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Summit sours

December 2, 2010

Japan has said that it won't extend its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol past 2012 if the US and China are not on board. The future of a legally binding UN agreement to cut emissions is looking less certain.

factory in Japan
Japan wants to bail out of Kyoto if China and the USA don't join inImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Japan has said that it does not plan to sign up to the next commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol unless it includes binding emissions cuts for other big polluters like the United States and China.

"It does not make sense to set the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol as the current Kyoto Protocol is imposing obligations on only a small part of developed countries," Japanese negotiator Hideki Minamikawa told reporters in Cancun.

He said a broader deal was needed as Kyoto only applied to rich countries.

The United States abandoned the treaty in 2001, while China is spared legally binding commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions because it is classified as a developing country.

Under Kyoto, rich nations must cut their emissions by an average 5.2 percent below 1990 levels. However, these parties only account for less than a third of the world's emissions.

The first commitment period of the protocol expires in 2012, and delegates to the climate talks in Cancun are under pressure to determine what happens thereafter.

Threat of failure

Hideki Minamikawa, a deputy Japanese environment minister
Minamikawa says extending Kyoto 'does not make sense'Image: picture alliance / dpa

Developing countries said that climate talks in Mexico would fail unless Tokyo backed down on its plan to abandon the UN climate pact.

"There will be no successful outcome for Cancun," if Japan sticks to its refusal to extend cuts under Kyoto, said Abdulla Alsaidi, the chair of the Group of 77 and China, the main body of developing nations at the two-week talks in Mexico.

The UN talks are essentially taking place on two tracks, with linkages.

One track gathers all 194 parties under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including the United States, on worldwide action beyond 2012.

The other track gathers the 193 parties to the Kyoto Protocol - all countries except the United States.

Developing countries have said they will commit to a deal in the first track provided there is a deal for renewing Kyoto, the Japanese city where the protocol was signed in 1997.

As a result, if Japan and other rich countries bale out of Kyoto, that could bring the rest of the talks to a standstill.

UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said Japan had made similar statements in the past and warned all sides that a clear decision on Kyoto's fate was not expected to be taken in Cancun.

"Given the diversity of positions on the Kyoto Protocol, it is not going to be possible for Cancun to take a radical decision one way or another on the Kyoto Protocol," she said.

That means even less time to agree on what happens to Kyoto before 2012.

a selection of delegates at the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun
There are low expectation about what delegates can achieve at CancunImage: picture alliance / dpa

Not all bad news

In addition to Kyoto, protecting the planet's forests is high on the agenda at Cancun as forest destruction is responsible for up to 17 percent of mankind's greenhouse gas emissions.

Google unveiled technology on Thursday which it said would help build trust between rich and poor countries on projects designed to protect the world's tropical forests.

Measuring the success of forest-protection plans in places like the Amazon, Indonesia and the Congo Basin has always been difficult because tree disease, corruption and illegal logging threaten vast remote areas that scientists can't monitor by land.

Global deals among nations to protect forests have been slowed by the lack of transparency.

Negotiators at the climate talks believe progress can be made on a global plan called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) in which rich countries would fund rewards for developing and poor nations like Brazil, Indonesia and several in Africa, such as Rwanda, that save and restore forests.

Google said it hoped its tool would help speed cooperation in REDD, which could lead to further global agreements on climate.

Author: Natalia Dannenberg (Reuters, AFP, dpa)
Editor: Nancy Isenson