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Saving Kyoto, in name or substance?

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva 15 July 2001 - Ministers and diplomats from around the world are meeting over the next two weeks in Bonn at the Climate Conference, where there will be efforts to ‘salvage’ the Kyoto protocol - after the blow to its viability by the US President George Bush’s refusal to endorse it, and with Japan now engaged in fence-straddling exercise between the US and the EU position.

The Bonn meeting is a resumption of the sixth session of the Conference of Parties to the convention (COP6), which was suspended last November in the Hague after negotiators failed to reach an agreement.

The COP has to finalise the rules for implementing the Kyoto protocol and spurring the industrial nations to achieve their targets, as also adopt measures to strengthen the financial and technical cooperation between developed and developing countries on climate friendly policies and technologies.

The Kyoto protocol (1997) set the targets for the industrialized nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5% compared to their 1990 levels and to achieve this 2008-2012.

While setting these levels of commitments, the protocol left some of the rules and mechanisms to achieve this to be set by rules, and the COP had been engaged in this task when the decision of President Bush to withdraw the US backing has raised a whole range of issues.

Mr. Bush has argued that the targets set and the commitments to be undertaken by the US would affect the US economy, while the EU has been insisting that the industrial nations must take the steps to reverse the upward trends in man-made emissions of greenhouse gases held to be responsible for global warming.

Three working groups of the Inter-government panel on climate change (IPCC ) have now come out with detailed assessments and estimations that show that the global warming if things remain unchanged would be much greater than originally forecast, and providing some estimations of the loss to the world, and to various regions, and the need for countries to take climate change mitigation actions.

At pre-conference press briefing here and in Amsterdam last week, the Executive Director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Mr. Michael Zammit Cutajar, suggested that after six years of arduous and complex negotiations, it was time “to finalize the system that will guide global action on climate change for the next two decades and beyond.”

The Kyoto protocol, he underlined, set out a framework for encouraging markets to work for emission targets, setting legally-binding targets and time tables supported by rigorous performance indicators, and a range of flexible options to achieve the targets at the lowest economic costs.

The protocol also provides incentives for emission-saving investments in developing countries.

“It would be a great waste to leave the rule-book for this massive undertaking unfinished, when we have already come so far,” said Zammit Cutajar.

“Once the rules are finalized, governments will be in a better position to decide in what political context to apply them,” he said. “I hope they will do so by bringing the protocol into force.”

For the protocol to come into force it needs 55 ratifications including that of the industrialized countries accounting for at least 55% of the total 1999 carbon dioxide emissions.

The US accounts for 31% and with Australia and Canada for 41.5%.

The EU, the transition economies, Switzerland, New Zealand and Russia account for 49.5% and Japan for 8.5%.

The protocol cannot come into force unless it is ratified by both the EU and Japan, and the latter as it goes into the Bonn meeting has made clear that while it backed the Kyoto protocol, it would not join with the EU in going ahead with ratification and isolating the US.

In any event, unless the US at some point or the other comes in and joins the protocol, attempts to forge ahead would not be very effective.

There has been some talk of ‘amending’ the Kyoto protocol. But an amendment is possible only after it enters into force. However, there is talk of working on an amendment that would bring in the US, and doing it in such a way that both could come into effect at the same time.

While the fate of the Kyoto protocol is now tied to the three-way talks (US, EU and Japan), the developing countries are in effect sitting back and watching.

However there is a danger in their laid-back attitude.

Their commitments come into play only at the second stage, after the industrial nations have taken their steps, and have also provided financial assistance as well as technological help to developing countries to make the transition.

Among its objections to the Kyoto protocol, the US has argued that the developing countries, particularly the big countries like China, India and Brazil won’t be taking any actions to reduce their own emissions.

So unless the developing countries watch out, any compromise that may be forged among the three (US, EU and Japan) may be promoted by trying to pressure the major developing countries to do their own share, but without any financial aid or technological help and transfer of technologies.

In fact in the current round of new services talks, the US, Europe and Japan are trying to ‘gain’ the markets of the developing countries in terms of energy and other services - which would involve their enterprises gaining access to the markets of developing countries, through investments and ‘technology’ licensing accords. These, may well result in further outflows from the developing world, rather than their getting aid from the developed to meet the climate change problems, and the costs of mitigation.

It is not as if the developing countries are united.

A large number of island economies facing ‘extinction’ as a result of global warming and rise in sea levels are trying to get the major industrial nations to take actions, but at some point may join in putting some moral pressure on the major developing countries to do their share too.

The unfolding scenario is a very tricky one, and needs all the diplomatic skills and firm stands by the developing countries. – SUNS4937

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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