Beyond the Kyoto Protocol: Climate Talks Open in India

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, October 23, 2002 (ENS) - World leaders have gathered in New Delhi, India to discuss climate change initiatives that move beyond the Kyoto Protocol, despite continued U.S. opposition to the agreement. The meeting, which began today and continues through November 1, comes in the wake of recent announcements of support for the Kyoto Protocol by Russia and Canada.

Impending ratification by Russia and Canada will bring the international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions into effect in early 2003. The United States and Australia are the lone holdouts amid the 39 original parties. Both have refused to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol based on concerns over its economic impact.

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The Eighth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change opened today in New Delhi, India. (Photo courtesy UNFCC)
The United States is responsible for almost 25 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, and environmentalists question how a global initiative on climate change can succeed without American support.

"By the time the Protocol enters into force, developed countries will have less than 10 years to meet their Kyoto targets for greenhouse gases," said Joke Waller-Hunter, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). "The big question now is what practical actions these governments, including those that choose to remain outside Kyoto, are taking to lower their emissions."

Members are meeting in New Delhi for 10 days for the Eighth Conference of the Parties (COP-8) to the UNFCCC. Under the Kyoto Protocol, an addition to the UNFCCC, 37 industrialized nations have agreed to cut their emissions of six greenhouse gases linked to global warming: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulphur hexafluoride.

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Mohamed Elyazghi, Minister of Environment for Morocco (left) and Joke Waller-Hunter, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, light a lamp to open the COP-8 meeting, a traditional Indian ceremony to wish the event every success. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin-IISD)
Thirty-nine nations were to have been governed by the original agreement signed in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997, but the Bush administration in March 2001 said that the United States would not ratify the protocol, and earlier this year, Australia followed suit.

The U.S. and Australia have argued that the Kyoto Protocol's focus on curbing emissions from industrialized nations, with developing countries asked to cut emissions later, placed an unfair burden on companies based in industrial countries.

At the COP-8 meeting, a strong focus on the concerns of developing countries is expected, Waller-Hunter said. Topics will include preparing to cope with global warming impacts, accelerating the transfer of climate friendly technologies and integrating climate policies more closely with sustainable development.

Environmental groups applaud a focus on helping developing nations, but insist that the developed world must show greater leadership.

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Kevin Baumert of the World Resources Institute. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin-IISD)
"We should not be satisfied with a haphazard round of commitments by governments," said Kevin Baumert, coauthor of a new World Resources Institute report on climate change. "The dangers of climate change are too great and they fall disproportionately on the world's poor."

The report's 17 authors from nine countries warn that the weak leadership from industrialized countries and the repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol by the United States could jeopardize any new efforts to address climate change. The report details seven approaches to climate protection, all building on the original Kyoto Protocol.

Under the Protocol, ratifying nations agree to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide to an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels during the five year period 2008 to 2012. For the Kyoto Protocol to take effect, 55 governments, including developed countries representing at least 55 percent of that group's 1990 carbon dioxide emissions, must ratify the treaty.

As of early October, 95 parties had ratified, including developed countries responsible for 37.1 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. Canadian and Russian ratification, expected in early 2003, will push the level of support for Kyoto above the necessary threshold for implementation.

Russia accounted for 17.4 percent of global 1990 carbon dioxide emissions and Canada was responsible for 3.3 percent. In comparison, the U.S. accounted for 36.1 percent of the world's carbon emissions, and Australia contributed 2.1 percent.

Despite its lack of support for Kyoto, the U.S. will be following protocol issues at the New Delhi meeting, said Harlan Watson, senior U.S. climate negotiator and a leading member of the U.S. State Department delegation to the talks.

"We're certainly not going to interfere, but we will be watching very carefully, obviously to protect our national interests," Harlan said.

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The United States is hoping to get credit under the Kyoto Protocol for replanting clearcuts like this one in Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon (Photo courtesy American Lands)
Emissions trading will also be a hot topic at the conference, as members discuss the role of economic mechanisms to help developing countries absorb the costs of limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The conference is scheduled to adopt operating rules for the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a tool to finance projects in developing countries that reduce the manmade carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming.

These projects could include funding for carbon sinks - forest tracts or agricultural areas where growing vegetation absorbs carbon dioxide. Investment in these sinks could earn companies and nations carbon credits, allowing them to make fewer emissions cuts to meet the Kyoto Protocol's requirements - a concept that has generated a great deal of controversy.

Environmental groups argue that effective CDM guidelines must generate new and additional carbon dioxide emission reductions, or promote investment in clean, renewable energy technologies.

"To fulfill their responsibility in addressing the problem of global warming, governments must act decisively to improve the rules and ensure the environmental quality of the projects undertaken," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) climate change program. "It is New Delhi that will be remembered for either setting the Clean Development Mechanism, science and carbon sinks on the right track or creating bad precedents and stalling the debate while the earth continues to warm."

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IUCN Director General Achim Steiner (Photo courtesy World Conservation Union)
The emerging market for carbon credits is detailed in a new report from the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The report outlines a set of strategies and methods for climate change mitigation measures that can also deliver sustainable development benefits. It will be presented at the conference but the IUCN is determined to showcase its ideas as a complement to, not a replacement for, emissions cuts.

"Energy consuming sectors need to significantly reduce their emissions and this should be the most important undertaking of both governments and the private sector," said IUCN Director General Achim Steiner. "Efforts to reduce emissions should not be replaced by forestry or other land use activities that sequester carbon, thereby reducing greenhouse gases."

For more information on the World Resources Institute report on climate change, visit: http://pubs.wri.org/pubs_description.cfm?PubID=3762

For more information on the IUCN/UNEP report on mitigation measures, visit: http://www.iucn.org/info_and_news/press/carbonfpb.pdf