Coal plant in the United States, the country responsible for 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions
Credit: Photo Stock.
Death Blow for Kyoto?
By Francesca Colombo
Delegates to the ninth conference on climate change in Italy are discussing alternatives in case the Kyoto Protocol is done in by a “no” from Russia, which would doom 11 years of efforts.
MILAN, Italy, (Tierramérica).- The future of the Kyoto Protocol has been thrown into doubt by Russia’s recent wavering on whether it will ratify the treaty. The question has divided the delegates at the ninth conference on climate change and given rise to discussions of alternative mechanisms, like a new global convention.
Recent statements by Russian officials raised questions as to what that country would eventually decide with respect to the Protocol aimed at cutting emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming, which is being discussed at the ninth Conference of the Parties (COP-9) to the U.N. framework Convention on Climate Change, meeting until Dec. 12 in the northern Italian city of Milan.
If Moscow joins the United States, Canada and Australia in rejecting the Protocol, “it will condemn the world to a situation worse than the one we have today,” Burkina Faso’s director-general of the environment, Honore Toe, told Tierramérica.
Tens of millions of people around the world are directly or indirectly affected by climate change, which most of the scientific community agrees is caused when greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide generated by the burning of fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal -- are trapped in the atmosphere by the “greenhouse effect”.
The global temperature increased between 0.2 and 0.6 degrees in the 20th century, the sea level rose between 10 and 20 cms, the glaciers are melting (up to 40 percent in the Arctic Ocean), and water resources are drying up.
The Protocol, originally signed in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan to set targets for cutting the greenhouse gas emissions of industrialized countries, cannot go into effect unless it is ratified by countries representing 55 percent of 1990 emissions.
That means Russia’s ratification is essential, given the fact that the United States pulled out of the treaty in 2001.
On Dec. 2, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s adviser on economic issues, Andrei Illarionov, said Moscow would not ratify the Protocol “in its current format” because it could hamper future opportunities for Russia’s economic growth.
But the next day, Deputy Minister of the Economy Mukhamed Tsikhanov said that no final decision had been reached yet, and that the Russian parliament may ratify the treaty in 2004.
The wavering by Russia, which accounts for six percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, “sends a negative signal to the international markets,” the director of Japan’s Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), Srinivasan Ancha, told Tierramérica.
Kyoto is “only one step towards cutting emissions. A new treaty would mean the loss of 11 years of efforts made since this initiative emerged in Rio de Janeiro,” said Ancha, referring to the 1992 Earth Summit.
“The world’s indigenous and peasant communities are the most vulnerable to climate change,” said the representative of Costa Rica’s Bri-Bri indigenous community, Flor Morales.
“We have lost harvests, our soil is flooded or eroded. We have a certain order for agriculture, a time for harvesting, which is being broken because of humanity’s practices against the environment,” she added.
The Kyoto Protocol is aimed at forcing the industrialized world to cut carbon dioxide emissions to five percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
But the outlook is not promising. The European Union, which has been the driving forced behind the Protocol, was forced to admit that it would not meet its ambitious target of reducing emissions to eight percent below 1990 levels by 2010. According to projections by the European Environment Agency, emissions will only have been cut by 0.5 percent by 2010.
At the current pace, only Britain and Sweden will meet the target, while Spain will reach 2010 with 30 percent higher emissions and the rest of the EU countries with emissions at least 20 percent higher than the goal.
The EU is divided on the issue. Some members of the bloc are calling for voluntary projects like research into the use of hydrogen in transportation, renewable energy sources, and improving the energy efficiency of fossil fuels.
Among the EU nations that support the United States in its withdrawal from the pact is Italy, whose emissions increased 7.3 percent between 1990 and 2003, and which is pushing for emission reduction programmes without binding rules.
Some areas like the northern Italian region of Lombardy, one of the richest and most industrialized parts of Europe, are focusing on domestic policies: low energy-consumption home appliances, new systems for controlling greenhouse gases, and the planting of trees to create carbon sinks.
But Germany, Sweden and Finland are calling for strict enforcement of the Protocol even without the “renegade” countries (the United States, Canada and Australia).
“We will need to negotiate other options to implement the accords that have already been approved in the framework of Kyoto. We have a committee that can apply pressure and can seek new routes forward. Perhaps we can make new rules, but we have to debate them,” Aulikki Kauppila, adviser on international affairs to Finland’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, told Tierramérica.
Other nations like the Netherlands are in favor of coming up with a new global agreement. “We all hope Russia will ratify the Protocol. If it doesn’t, we have to think of other mechanisms. A small group of states is discussing the possibility of a new treaty, but we can’t talk about that yet,” Dutch Foreign Ministry official Sara Affermans remarked to Tierramérica.
But for the representatives of Asia and Africa, where the majority of poor nations exempt from the Kyoto Protocol’s emissions reduction targets are located, the Protocol is irreplaceable.
“If Russia fails to ratify it, we cannot move ahead. We don’t need another protocol. Kyoto is a global effort, and it took the international community a long time to come up with the Protocol. Creating a new one would not be an easy task,” Li Liyan, with China’s National Office on Climate Change, said to Tierramérica.
Since it withdrew from the treaty in 2001, Washington has tried to convince developing nations that bilateral agreements are a better option.
Prior to the start of the two-week meeting taking place in Milan, environmental groups warned of the U.S. intention to promote a 1.7 billion dollar investment in studying climate change, and a one billion dollars investment in obtaining hydrogen from coal and creating new technologies to eliminate greenhouse gases.
* The writer is a contributor to Tierramérica.