Nairobi climate conference: 'Small step forward'

Posted: 21 November 2006

The United Nations climate change conference wound up its two-week meeting on 17 November by approving a plan to work towards limiting global warming after 2012 when the present agreement governing greenhouse gas emissions expires. The Kyoto Protocol sets legally binding emission reduction targets for 35 industrialized countries during the five years from 2008 to 2012.

In another forward step, developing countries will receive financial and technical help in adapting to the effects of global warming, the conference agreed, as thousands of participants from 180 countries went home with dire warnings about potential climate calamities ringing in their ears.

Almost 40% of carbon dioxide emissionsin California comes from passenger vehicles.© US Environmental Protection Agency
Almost 40% of carbon dioxide emissionsin California comes from passenger vehicles.© US Environmental Protection Agency
Almost 40 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions in California comes from passenger vehicles.© US Environmental Protection Agency
“The 166 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol heard in Nairobi that global emissions of greenhouse gases have to be reduced to very low levels, well below half of levels in 2000, in order to avoid dangerous climate change,” said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC.

“The fact that Parties now have a concrete workplan means that they can move ahead with addressing issues fundamental for agreement on future commitments, such as the level of emission reductions that is required and the ways in which they can be achieved,” said de Boer.

“The conference has delivered on its promise to support the needs of developing countries,” said Conference President Kenyan Minister for Natural Resources and the Environment Kivutha Kibwana.

“The spirit of Nairobi has been truly remarkable,” he said. “Let us now use the momentum of this conference to carry this spirit forward and jointly undertake the kind of concerted action we need for humankind to have a future on this planet.”

Slow pace

But environmentalists were dissatisfied with the slow pace of talks. Friends of the Earth Europe welcomed the progress made towards future commitments but expressed concerns that no end date has been agreed for these negotiations.

Further discussions on greenhouse gas emission levels in the rapidly developing countries like China or Brazil have been postponed to 2008.

The European NGO says the result could be "a dangerous delay of the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol, which would harm investment security for clean energy industries like renewable energy."

WWF, the global conservation group, said the conference had taken "a small step forward" but they did not make the further decisions needed for deeper emission cuts beyond 2012.

“While progress was made in Nairobi, our leaders must recognize that scientific evidence and public opinion demands much stronger action than what was agreed,” said Hans Verolme, director of WWF’s Global Climate Change Programme.

Verolme said an agreement is needed to see these talks concluded by 2008.

Adaptation Fund

Jan Kowalzig, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said, "The Adaptation Fund to help poor developing countries to adapt to climate change may raise at most 300 million Euros for the period between 2008 and 2012. But the World Bank predicts that the most vulnerable developing countries would actually need one hundred times this amount, annually. Rich countries are largely responsible for the climate crisis. As a matter of justice, they must now commit to far greater contributions to this fund."

The Adaptation Fund will draw on proceeds generated by the Clean Development Mechanism, which permits industrialized countries with emission targets under the Kyoto Protocol to invest in sustainable development projects in developing countries that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thereby generating tradable emission credits.

Adaptation will be necessary as sea levels rise, prolonged droughts make food production more difficult, tropical diseases spread into formerly temperate areas, and extreme weather events cause loss of life and property.

Milimanjaro
Kilimanjaro
Giraffes in Kenya's Amboseli National Park. In the background is Mount Kilimanjaro, which is losing its snow cover to global warming. Photo courtesy Kenya Adventures
Climate change is already having dramatic impacts on migratory species from whales and dolphins to birds and turtles, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, released at the conference.

These changes are expected to affect not only the birds and animals but the people who depend upon the health of these species for their livelihood.

“Take the host of the climate convention talks, Kenya," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. "Its national parks and biodiversity generated $700 million in foreign exchange from tourism last year. If its parks and its biodiversity - from elephants to lions and rhino to wildebeest - were lost as a result of climate change, the impacts will be felt by the economy and the livelihoods of local people who depend on visitor income."

While the Kyoto Protocol talks were taking place, discussions were also ongoing among countries that are Parties to the broader UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, including the United States and Australia, which are not bound by the protocol.

Parties to the UNFCCC agreed to utilize a $60 million Special Climate Fund to finance climate friendly development in poor countries.

They agreed that the Fund would be used for energy efficiency, energy savings, renewable energy and advanced fossil fuel technologies that emit less greenhouse gases than conventional technologies. The Fund can be used for solid and liquid waste management projects to recover methane, a greenhouse gas that can be used as fuel.

Additional support

Delegates recognized that barriers stand in the way of increased projects in many countries, especially in Africa. To address this situation, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced the launch of the Nairobi Framework through which six UN agencies will provide additional support to developing countries to successfully develop projects for the Clean Development Mechanism.

“We are seeing a revolutionary shift in the debate on climate change,” said de Boer. “From looking at climate change policies as a cost factor for development, countries are starting to see them as opportunities to enhance economic growth in a sustainable way.”

But Kibwana said he was concerned that rigid positions on review of the Kyoto Protocol and on the proposal put forward by the Russian Federation on a procedure for taking on voluntary commitments under the protocol blocked greater progress towards limiting global warming.

The Kyoto Protocol was amended for the first time to include the Central European industrialized country of Belarus, which will take on a legally binding target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions eight percent from 2008 to 2012.

The conference was attended by some 6,000 participants, among them more than 100 ministers, the UN Secretary-General and two heads of State, and marked the first time that a climate change convention was held in sub-Saharan Africa.

The next round of negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol and talks under the United Nations Climate Change Convention will be held in Bonn, Germany in May 2007.

The next annual session of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties and the third session of the Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol will be held from December 3 to 14, 2007 in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia. - Enviromental News Service (ENS)

From our website, see:

Feature: Climate talks adrift