Industry is the main culprit behind greenhouse gas emissions.
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The Post-Kyoto Era Up for Debate
Por Stephen Leahy
Another international forum on climate change is underway this week in Montreal. The hope is to relaunch the debate about what will happen after 2012 -- but that task won't be easy.
BROOKLIN, Canada, (Tierramérica).- Representatives from 180 countries are meeting in Montreal this week to finally put into action the Kyoto Protocol for monitoring climate change, and start a new international discussion on what comes after that agreement expires in 2012.
Scientific evidence of just how harmful climate change is grows more compelling and public concern is rising, but expectations for concrete action are low -- even though it will be one of the largest global climate change meetings ever held.
Climate change is seen as the climatic variations attributed to global warming, caused by the sharp rise in man-made emissions of "greenhouse gases", the leading one being carbon dioxide.
"No one is coming to Montreal to reach a new agreement on what to do after Kyoto," Elliot Diringer, international strategies director at the Pew Center on Climate Change, told Tierramérica.
"The most that can be hoped for is an agreement on a process to look at the next steps," he said. "However the United States is firmly opposed to even talking about that process."
The Nov. 28-Dec. 9 meetings are known as "Montreal COP/MOP", for the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the first-ever Meeting of Parties under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
The agenda of the "MOP" includes reaching an agreement on how to implement the first goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions set eight years ago by the Protocol.
Ratifed by 156 countries, the Protocol established an objective of an average of a 5.2 percent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels for the period 2008-2012. The administration of George W. Bush withdrew the U.S. signature from the Protocol in 2001.
"We can't let the Bush administration hold the rest of the world hostage by its refusal to participate in international agreements," said Steve Sawyer, climate policy adviser for Greenpeace International in Amsterdam.
"We can't afford to waste another four years," Sawyer said in an interview.
Even though Canada is coming in last in the Kyoto club for making reductions -- its emissions are up 25 percent from 1990 -- it wants to make these meetings a world stage for taking action on climate change.
"We hope to get Kyoto started off on a good footing," said David Brackett, special advisor to the Canadian government's Global Climate Affairs division.
"Canada wants to make this a huge event and is hosting many parallel events," said Brackett told Tierramérica.
With more than 10,000 participants from governments, the private sector and civil society, and some 1,500 journalists added into the mix, restaurants and 'brasseries' in chilly Montreal will be home to hot speculation about what comes after Kyoto.
And time is running short to take action to prevent disastrous impacts from climate change, scientists have warned.
Regions in Asia and South America are headed for a water supply crisis because glaciers are melting rapidly, while the populations of cities and villages at risk of flooding by coastal storm surges is projected to increase from the current 75 million to 200 million by 2080, scientists at the U.S.-based Scripps Institute of Oceanography reported recently in the journal Nature.
The Worldwide Fund for Nature also released a study in November showing that rising water temperatures is affecting freshwater and salt water fish and other marine animals. Salmon and sturgeon cannot spawn if winter temperatures are not cool enough, for example.
Climate change is already causing about five million more cases of severe human illness a year and more than 150,000 extra deaths, the World Health Organization estimates. By 2030 those numbers will more than double, with a dramatic increase in heat-related deaths, respiratory disorders, the spread of infectious diseases and malnutrition from crop failures.
"It's distressing that the rate of climate change is faster than we're addressing climate change," says Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, a U.S.-based independent research institute.
"Everyone realizes that substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, on the order of 60 to 80 percent, are needed," Gleick said in a Tierramérica interview.
But getting agreements from countries to set targets to make substantial cuts will be very difficult he said.
And that is made all the more difficult by the Bush administration's intransigence when it comes to climate change issues.
"The U.S. should be held accountable by the world community to show that it is doing its part to reduce emissions," added Gleick.
Paula Dobriansky, Under-Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs and chief U.S. negotiator at the Montreal climate meeting declined to be interviewed by Tierramérica.
According to Diringer, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and China are among the new players who may take a leading role in developing a plan for emissions reductions "after Kyoto" -- after the 2008-2012 period.
"I hope the U.S. position will not provide an excuse for other countries to do nothing," said the Pew Center expert.
* Stephen Leahy is an IPS correspondent.