World applauds climate deal

Posted: 24 July 2001

With the exception of the Bush administration, in Washington, governments and NGOs alike have given a welcome to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, as a first step to limiting greenhouse gases which threaten global warming. Agreement was reached in Bonn on July 23, after years of wrangling and two days and nights of negotiations.

The draft decision, contained in two informal documents, sets out a political text outlining key elements of the agreement and the compromise on how it is to be enforced.

"Today's agreement will keep up the pressure for early emissions reductions by governments and the private sector in the developed world," said Michael Zammit Cutajar, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

"It should also strengthen financial and technological support to developing countries to enable them to take action on climate change. The next step is for developed country governments to ratify the Protocol so that it can enter into force as quickly as possible - preferably by 2002." (See October 1 2002 update below).

So far, 36 of the 180 nations have ratified the Protocol, including only one industrialised country - Romania. The protocol will not take effect until it is ratified by 55 per cent of the nations responsible for at least 55 per cent of the heat-trapping emissions.

The United States, the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, has already rejected the 1997 agreement.

While the agreement is not perfect, delegates agree, it includes a number of steps that signal progress, such as the creation of three new climate funds for the developing countries: an adaptation fund, a fund to assist with implementing climate related measures, and a fund for the least developed countries.

The concessions made to Japan and some other hesitant countries such as Canada and Australia means that cuts in greenhouse gases by 38 of the most developed countries may not be more than 1-3 per cent, compared to the target reduction of 5.2 per cent between 2008 and 2012. In either case these fall far short of the eventual 60-80 per cent that scientists say is necessary to make the climate safe. But it is seen as a vital start.

Commentators believe it will certainly give a huge boost to renewable energy and clean technologies, and signal the start of a new world trade in carbon. This alone may give the United States cause to reflect on the price of being the odd man out.

Speaking for the G-77/China group of developing countries, Ambassador Bagher Asadi of Iran said this is an "honorable deal" that represents a historic achievement and "the triumph of multilateral negotiations over unilateralism."

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the UN Environmental Programme(UNEP), also welcomed the agreement."The compromise paper which was achieved after intensive and difficult negotiations, could provide the basis for a broad ratification of the Kyoto Protocol," he said.

"Agreement means it is still possible that the Kyoto Protocol will come into force by the time of the World Summit on Sustainable Development convened in Johannesburg next year. This was the key goal set down by the world leaders in last year's UN Millennium Declaration."

On behalf of the Belgian Presidency of the European Union, which led the push for agreement, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Louis Michel said he was pleased with the flexible attitude displayed by the vast majority of countries, including Japan. He invited the United States to lend its backing to the Kyoto agreement in the near future.

But the United States is not likely to do so. Speaking after the agreement U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice said "The United States believes that this particular protocol is not in its interests, nor do we believe that it really addresses the problem of global climate change."

Under the Kyoto Protocol, 38 industrialised nations have agreed to cut their emissions of six greenhouse gases linked to global warming. The countries who ratify must reduce emissions of carbon dioxide to an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels during the five year period 2008 to 2012. The emissions of developing nations will be controlled by subsequent negotiations under the climate treaty.

One of the most difficult issues to resolve was how much credit developed countries could receive toward their Kyoto emissions targets through the use of sinks which absorb carbon from the atmosphere. The meeting agreed that the eligible activities will include revegetation and the management of forests, croplands and grazing lands.

The meeting also adopted the rules governing the Clean Development Mechanism, through which developed countries can invest in climate friendly projects in developing countries and receive credit for the emissions avoided by these projects. The rules specify that energy efficiency, renewable energy, and forest sink projects can qualify for the CDM, but not nuclear power facilities.

A final word came from Friends of the Earth International, whose Climate Campainger, Kat Hampton said:

"The Kyoto Protocol is still alive. That in itself is a triumph for citizens all over the world who have campaigned so hard for governments to act to tackle dangerous climate change. It is also a political disaster for President Bush, who with the arrogance of power thought that his decision to renege on Kyoto would be enough to kill it.

"But the price of success has been high. The Protocol has been heavily diluted. Its effect on the climate has been massively eroded...each move away from action will bring further misery and destruction to communities across the world. We leave here with new hope for the future. But we warn the world's governments: this is only a small step forward. You have a very long way to go."

  • At the World Summit on Sustainable Development, in September 2002, Russia and China indicated that they would ratify the treaty, joining other nations which have already ratified the Protocol, and thus ensuring that it will come into law by the end of the year. And while the United States remains firmly opposed to joining, Australia seems to be having second thoughts about not ratifying the Protocol.