By Xinhua writer Cao Kai
BEIJING, Nov. 26 (Xinhua) -- The new round of UN climate talks kicked off on Monday in Doha as the landmark Kyoto Protocol is going to see the expiration of its first commitment period, which requires industrialized countries to slash 5.2 percent of carbon emissions from 1990 levels by the end of 2012.
The whole world is watching to see if the Kyoto Protocol can be extended at the Doha talks. If not, it will be a great setback to global efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
Whether the developed nations can make substantive and sufficient cuts is key to charting the course for future global anti-warming efforts.
"Common but differentiated responsibilities," a principle enunciated at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992, is widely accepted as a rational arrangement for countries' obligations on climate change.
In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, states have broadly similar responsibilities although they differ on a case-by-case basis. Under the UNFCCC's Rio Declaration on Environment and Development in June 1992, developed countries acknowledge the responsibility they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they demand.
The developed world discharged a great amount of greenhouse gases during its industrialization in the previous two centuries. That is the main cause of global warming. That's why they should take most of the responsibility to reduce carbon emissions.
About 80 percent of greenhouse gases were discharged by developed nations since the Industrial Revolution. The total amount discharged and per capita discharge of developing countries is far lower. It is an inescapable obligation for developed nations to take binding emission cut obligations.
Meanwhile, better-developed countries have already overused Earth's atmosphere and resources for emissions, occupying what should be emission quotas for developing countries that are modernizing to meet their citizens' basic needs.
Developing countries are now beginning to industrialize. It is unfair to limit this. Nations that have already undergone this process should transfer environmentally friendly technologies to developing nations and increase their aid to poor nations to bear their historical responsibilities.
It is a pity that the United States, as a major emitter, never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, nor will it be any part of its second commitment period.
In addition to the United States, Canada has withdrawn from the accord, while Japan and Russia have said they are not interested in joining the second commitment period.
This inactive participation shows that some developed countries are paying more attention to their own economic interests than the long-term benefits of the whole world.
Based on 2010 data, global emissions are estimated around 50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) -- 20 percent higher than 2000 emissions and 14 percent above the level needed in 2020 to keep temperature rises to a maximum of 2 degrees, a United Nations' Environment Programme (UNEP) report said last week.
"Even if the most ambitious level of pledges and commitments were implemented by all countries and under the strictest set of rules, there will now be a gap of 8 billion tonnes of CO2e by 2020," the report said.
If the necessary emissions cuts are delayed, it could cost 10 to 15 percent more to cut the emissions after 2020, the UNEP warned.
It is a positive sign that the European Union has pledged to cut emissions by 20 percent between 1990 and 2020. Also, Australia has changed its former stance of rejection and pledged to join the second commitment period.
However, the pledged cuts still fall short of what is needed to keep temperature rises below a cap of 2 degrees Celsius -- cutting emission levels by 25 percent to 40 percent from 1990 levels, as recommended by the 4th report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Global climate change may well be the most significant environmental problem of our time. It is significant, not just for its portended severe consequences, but also for its ability to test the extent of mankind's collective conscience to take moral responsibility for a problem of its own making.
Governments meeting in Doha now need to urgently implement existing decisions which will allow for a swifter transition toward a low-carbon and resilient world. The developed nations should take the lead in this approach.