Global warming no longer an emotional issue

by Ramesh Jaura

Bonn, Jun 12 -- Global warming has ceased to be the highly emotional issue that it was until some two years ago, when a crucial conference in Kyoto, Japan saw developed nations pitted against developing countries in the debate over climate change.

Instead, the subject has become a topic of extensive procedural and methodological debate among officials.

This change was underscored in the two weeks of talks on the U.N. climate change convention and its Kyoto Protocol, which concluded here Friday.

These talks, involving officials from some 150 countries, were intended to pave the way for the fifth conference of the parties to the UN convention on climate change (COP-5) scheduled to be held in Bonn from Oct 25 to Nov 5 - and to be attended by ministers from around the world during its high-level segment Nov 2-4.

Even COP-5, said the chairman of the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI), Bakary Kante from Senegal, would be another "technical" meeting.

The reasons, according to executive secretary of the U.N. framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC), Michael Zammit Cutajar, are of a practical nature. "When governments adopted the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 they agreed on what the international community must do over the next dozen years or so to minimise climate change," said Zammit Cutajar.

"By the end of the year 2000 they must decide the equally important issue of how to achieve the Kyoto target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions," he added. "The political commitment that was made in Kyoto will become truly convincing when these complicated technical details are resolved," Zammit Cutajar pointed out. He said the talks would continue at COP-5.

The main outstanding issues must be finalised at the COP's Sixth Session, which will take place in late 2000 or early 2001 in the Hague. "Many governments are awaiting the outcome of this vital conference before ratifying the Protocol and thus finalising their acceptance of it," he added.

Zammit Cutajar said technical work on many of the methodologies and procedures needed for implementing the climate change convention and the Kyoto Protocol were advancing well.

"But fundamental political and policy decisions must still be taken on the ability of developed countries to use emissions trading and investments in developing country projects to meet their Kyoto targets. These decisions will affect the costs of cutting emissions, so the stakes are high," he added.

Delegates considered the Kyoto Protocol's three "mechanisms", which are designed to help developed countries reduce the costs of meeting their emissions targets. A clean development mechanism (CDM) will grant these countries credits for financing developing-country projects that avoid emissions and promote sustainable development.

A joint implementation (JI) programme will offer credits for contributing to projects in other developed countries, including those of central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. An international emissions trading regime will allow developed countries to buy and sell emissions credits amongst themselves.

A closely linked issue is the development of credible compliance procedures. Delegates have agreed on some of the guiding principles for a compliance system and have produced a questionnaire for obtaining the written views of governments in time for COP-5, UNFCCC said.

The next steps in the work programme on methodological issues have also been agreed. Key issues include how developed countries should report their greenhouse gas inventories, how to estimate net emissions, and how to improve the accounting for emissions from bunker fuels for international transport.

The Buenos Aires Plan of Action, adopted at COP-4 last November, sets an ambitious deadline of late 2000 for finalising all these issues so that the mechanisms can be fully functional when the Protocol eventually enters into force.

The Bonn talks - tenth in the series - took place in two concurrent meetings. The meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) concentrated on ensuring that technical inputs from government experts, the convention secretariat, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and other sources contribute to the COP's decision-making process.

In addition to addressing the Kyoto mechanisms, the SBSTA also started a consultative process to decide how to better promote technology transfer. Many governments believe that not enough progress has been made in recent years on helping developing countries obtain energy-saving and other climate-friendly technologies, and they have great expectations for this new process.

SBSTA delegates also reviewed progress on developing appropriate technologies for adapting to sea-level rise, droughts, and other expected impacts of climate change.

The Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) examined the mechanisms as well as the submissions of national communications and inventories by developed countries. Data on greenhouse gas emissions from these countries are vital for tracking trends and gauging the effectiveness of efforts to limit emissions.

The SBI is also tasked with administrative, budgetary, scheduling, and other practical matters which are essential to keeping the convention process on track. It discussed the agenda and other arrangements for COP-5, and the convention secretariat's proposal for a significant budget increase over the next two years for handling the growing technical workload.

The Climate Change Convention was adopted in 1992 in response to growing scientific evidence about the potential impacts of humanity's emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases. It now has some 175 parties.

The Kyoto Protocol commits developed countries to reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases by at least five percent compared to 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012. It was adopted in December 1997 and signed by 83 countries plus the EU Commission during a one-year signature period that ended Mar 15, 1999.

Governments that did not sign during the signatory period may still become parties through the procedures of acceptance, approval or accession. The protocol will become legally binding when at least 55 countries, including developed nations accounting for at least 55 percent of developed country emissions, have ratified it.

The Bonn meetings were attended by some 1,500 participants from 147 governments and 152 intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations.(IPS)

The above article by the Inter Press Service appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS).