COP11—Montreal Climate Conference

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  • by Anup Shah
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The two-week climate change conference in Montreal, Canada, at the beginning of December 2005, actually comprised of two meetings:

  1. The Meeting of the Parties of the Protocol (MOP)
    This was a meeting of those developed countries that agreed to the Kyoto Protocol
  2. The Eleventh Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP 11)
    This involves practically the whole world—189 countries—that are part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

As the official web site for COP11/MOP1 noted, the conference was the largest intergovernmental climate conference since the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 and some 10,000 participants attended.

A number of issues were to be discussed as a result, including:

  • Clarifying and agreeing the rules and commitments that different countries have;
  • How to help developing countries reduce their emissions;
  • How to measure emission reductions;
  • Accountability.

While a final agreement was eventually reached, there were a number of surprising events and issues that turned up in the process:

On this page:

  1. What was agreed?
  2. The US walked out of the talks at one point and criticized for weakening agreements for future talks
  3. What about developing countries, climate justice and equity?

What was agreed?

The Kyoto Protocol entered into force 16 February 2005 with more than 30 industrialized countries bound by specific and legally binding emission reduction targets. As a first step, these cover the period 2008-2012.

This meeting confirmed a number of implementation plans, such as emissions trading, joint implementation, and clean development mechanisms. These last two are supposed to help developing countries while recognizing the industrialized countries’ contributions. These have been controversial and is discussed in more detail on this site’s section on flexibility mechanisms.

Discussion for future commitments after 2012 is also now possible. A new working group was established for this purpose, and will start work in May 2006. The aim will be to eventually have a second round of emission reduction target discussions for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013–2017). And, as Greenpeace Canada noted, this will be important to ensure the continuity of carbon markets.

This will likely also include discussions on how large developing countries, such as China and India, may be brought into the system of limiting greenhouse gas emissions, though they have resisted mandatory targets for the moment (see further below for the complex issue of developing countries are targets for them.)

It was agreed that sustained discussions with all countries was needed on various things such as

  • Advancing development goals in a sustainable way for poorer countries;
  • Addressing action on adaptation to climate changes;
  • Pursuing technology development and technology transfer to help develop solutions;
  • Exploring further the potential of market-based opportunities;

As Greenpeace Canada noted, It is the ethical, political, and legal responsibility of the industrialized countries to provide for this.

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The US walked out of the talks at one point and criticized for weakening agreements for future talks

The US is known to have been traditionally hostile to the idea of the Kyoto Protocol and multilateral initiatives to tackle climate change. The Bush Administration, for example, had pulled out of Kyoto in 2001.

Many nations and environmental groups were concerned about how to bring the US on board, or if they were going to scupper any agreements.

The BBC reported that the US was resisting the Canadian chairman’s plan for two years of wider discussions on how best to address climate change in the future and to get the US to accept mandatory targets. The US even walked out at one point.

It took massive public pressure—including many US citizen groups, negative media coverage, and even Bill Clinton’s strong comments, saying Bush is flat wrong that the Kyoto treaty would damage the US economy for the US to come back on board.

But it came at a cost—a weakened treaty, environmental group Friends of the Earth said, as the trade off was needed to get the US on side. The above-mentioned Greenpeace article also noted that the US had continued to attempt to lure countries away from the UN multilateral climate regime with its international emission trading to an ineffective approach based on voluntary actions and partnerships.

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What about developing countries, climate justice and equity?

The Montreal meeting brought some attention to developing country commitments and some rich countries have also been raising that issue (some say also to deflect some criticism of themselves for not reducing as much emissions as they should be, or for even increasing them). In particular, various nations say that China (the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide) and India are rapidly growing and so their emissions are going to increase as well, even overtake some industrialized countries in the next few years. Yet, the Kyoto Protocol does not demand targets from these countries. Hence, nations such as the US, and even recently, a few European nations, say this is unfair.

Without deeper and historical context, then it does indeed seem unfair. However, as discussed at length on this site already, climate justice, equity and sustainable development are all important parts of this debate that are often left out of mainstream discourse. Summarizing very briefly from that previous link (please visit it for much more detail and links to other sources):

When the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was formulated and then signed and ratified in 1992 by most of the world’s countries, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities was acknowledged. In short, this principle recognized that:

  • The largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries;
  • Per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low;
  • The share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, (Text is original, but minor edit made to reformat as a list)

That is,

  • Today’s rich nations are the ones responsible for global warming as greenhouse gases tend to remain in the atmosphere for many decades, and rich countries have been industrializing and emitting climate changing pollution for many more centuries than the poor countries;
  • It is therefore unfair to expect the third world to make emissions reductions (and also unfair considering their development and consumption is for basics and for developing, while for the rich, it has moved on to luxury consumption and life styles);


  • Rich countries are supposed to help poorer ones in alternative, cleaner technologies, which has often not happened or has been very slow to come;
  • Poorer countries are also limited in resources, due in part to immense poverty and third world debt;
  • Under such circumstances, many large poor countries have still been able to make emission reductions in key ways.

As was the case with the Buenos Aires Conference for COP10 the previous year, these concerns regarding developing countries and climate justice have been almost enitrely missed from the mainstream coverage and debate.

And so, there is increased pressure on China, India and other large developing countries, while the rich struggle to make reductions. The fear here is that the developing countries may somewhat understandably refuse to accept emission reductions if rich countries are not doing it themselves. For them, it would seem unfair that they have to not only forego development because of a problem created by rich countries, but also pay for it, too.

China and India in particular, however, are industrializing. As their role and impact on the planet changes, they will be expected to also change their habits in the same way today’s industrialized nations are expected to. So it is fair to expect China and India to be involved in the near future, but perhaps unfair to be involved immediately, or at least to the same effect as industrialized nations immediately. For most of the other poorer countries, as explained above, it would be an oversimplification to expect them to also have reduction targets to the same extent as rich countries, until they too start to industrialize.

Yet, these political issues, as crucial as they are, also detract from the other major problem: the changing climate isn’t going to wait for anyone, no matter how fair or unfair it seems.

What environmentalists and others therefore feel that Montreal has at least given is a new impetus to get moving on future discussions.

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  • by Anup Shah
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