Climate talks end in disappointment

Posted: 21 December 2004

The 10th anniversary Conference on Climate Change, in Buenos Aires, closed at the weekend with a weak compromise agreement on how to take forward discussions on curbing global greenhouse emissions. Governments also agreed a package of measures to help countries adapt to climate change.

The European countries had been determined to achieve a series of informal meetings to discuss the future of the climate regime, but this was rejected by the United States. However, US demands that the agenda should not contain any discussions of future cuts or be reported back at the next negotiations were finally amended to allow one informal seminar to go ahead. This all-day meeting of government experts will be held next May, in Bonn.

The seminar is to be conducted "without prejudices to any future negotiations, commitments, process, framework or mandate under the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol."

The United States has not signed up to the Kyoto Protocol because the Bush administration argues that mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions could threaten economic growth. It aims instead to introduce a new generation of nuclear reactors, promote clean coal technology and to explore ways of capturing and sequestering emissions of carbon dioxide.

'Deliberate obstruction'

After the meeting Greenpeace expressed anger at the United States and Saudi Arabia for their "deliberate tactics of obstruction and delay." It said the agreement means that discussions on future greenhouse gas cuts will not progress substantially during the coming year and will not ensure that countries most at risk from climate impacts get the assistance they need from the industrialised world.

"We hope that everyone has taken note of the bullying and blocking tactics of the USA at these negotiations. As a result we have a deal that is that barely keeps the process moving" said Greenpeace climate campaigner, Steve Sawyer.

"This agreement ensures that there will not be the kind of progress we need on negotiations of future emissions cuts during the next twelve months, and the adaptation package is far from adequate."

Saudi Arabia worked alongside the United States throughout the meeting and further blocked progress by imposing conditions on making financial assistance available for adaptation in developing countries. In return it demanded compensation for loss of oil revenues if the world moves away from fossil fuels.

"For Saudi Arabia to hold out a begging bowl whilst the least and poorest developed countries in the world struggle to cope with floods, droughts and extreme events, is obscene" said Sawyer.

"And the danger of trying to negotiate with the US is clear. They are intent on wrecking the talks and are not capable of negotiating in good faith. Their position on the science is illegitimate, their refusal to accept responsibility for impacts on the developing world is immoral and their negotiating positions are absurd."

"Only by moving ahead strongly without the US can we make real progress on climate change," he concluded.

Bargaining power

The lack of bargaining power by the least developed countries, who have no oil, was shown when they failed for the second year running to obtain a commitment to full cost funding of their adaptation to climate change through the Global Environment Facility (GEF). This is important since all the funding for the Least Developed Countries Fund is channeled through the GEE.

The GEE, meanwhile stressed its various programme, such as the renewable energy installations in the Galapagos islands, its wind farm in Tunisia,its fuel cells initiative which is helping to transfer solar technology, and its communication work in 130 countries.

Other aspects of the conference included decisions on the rapidly developing carbon market, which begins trading among 12,000 companies in the European Union in 2005. But none of this was much comfort to the small islands of the Pacific, who see climate change and rising sea levels as a life and death issue. Martin Pura Tofinga, environment minister of the Pacific archipelago of Kirabati, said: "I am talking about survival here, we need to move forward in a meaningful way."

Negotiations in 2005 will see the Kyoto countries meeting as a group for the first time. The United States will have observer status only at this and future Kyoto Protocol meetings unless and until it ratifies.

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