The us President George Bush's obdurate stance on climate change has driven negotiations under the critical un Framework Convention on Climate Change (unfccc) to a feverish pitch. The world has now two options -- convolute the climate treaty to meet us demands (including one that countries like China and India take on legally binding commitments), or go without the us, the world's largest and most powerful polluter. The next act of the drama will be played out when the suspended sixth conference of parties (cop-6) to the unfccc continues its work at "cop-6 plus" in Bonn later this month. The original cop-6 was suspended in The Hague last November as no agreement could be reached (see DTE, December 31, 2000, Tart Response).
Climate politics went into full speed in early June 2001. The day before he left for his maiden European tour, Bush dropped his climate bricks and baits. To appease his European colleagues, climate-sceptic Bush acknowledged the severity of the global warming problem for the first time, and said that the us would lead the way by advancing science on climate change. "The world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases is China. Yet, China was entirely exempted from the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol. India and Germany are among the top emitters. Yet, India was also exempt from Kyoto," Bush said. For these reasons, he said, "The Kyoto Protocol is fatally flawed in fundamental ways."
In the Swedish city of Gothenburg where protesters greeted "toxic Texan" Bush with naked backsides and banners during an European Union (eu)-us summit in mid June 2001, the eu was forced to take a stand. It decided, somewhat reluctantly, to part ways with the us. Swedish prime minister and host, Goeran Persson said that the eu would stick with the Kyoto treaty, while the us would "go on with their policy." "Kyoto is not meaningless without the us," defended Persson, "because it is the first step."
The Kyoto Protocol can only come into force if it has been ratified by 55 parties to unfccc, including industrialised countries responsible for at least 55 per cent of the emissions of the industrialised countries in 1990. The negotiations have turned into a courtship game, as the eu cajoles, woos or bribes key nations to get the magical 55 per cent number. For the protocol to come into effect without the us, the eu will need Russia and the countries in transition and either Japan or Canada and Australia together (see box: The numbers game, p34). All these countries want concessions in the use of sinks -- using forests, grazing lands and croplands to sequester carbon dioxide to meet their commitments. Sinks have, therefore, become the battleground to make or break the Kyoto pact. And each one of these countries is working hard to get the maximum concessions possible in this great bargain.
Japan is key (for the Kyoto Protocol to come into effect)," admits Svend Auken, Denmark's dynamic energy and environment minister. Russia and Ukraine and the eu account for about 53 per cent. It is the last two per cent that is difficult. Japan is making full use of its power and is blowing hot and cold. Mid-June, Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi dramatically proclaimed that the Bush administration's position on Kyoto was "truly deplorable." The next day, foreign minister, Makiko Tanaka said, "Japan cannot go ahead with European countries while leaving behind the us. We will make constructive efforts till the end to ratify the pact jointly with the us."
Playing all sides was profitable. On June 18, cop-6 president Jan Pronk put forward his revised draft proposals for parties to negotiate upon when they meet in Bonn. This latest draft contained special favours for Japan. Indian scientist, N H Ravindranath, who contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ipcc) report on land use, land use change and forestry (lulucf), calculates that through these new proposals, Japan, like other industrialised countries, could meet roughly 50 per cent of its reduction commitments through sinks.
However, the catch is that Japan does not have the land area to meet these commitments domestically. It will need to plant trees in developing countries to meet its emission reduction target. Therefore, Japan's participation is in the hands of developing countries who are still holding out on the issue of including sinks in the Clean Development Mechanism (cdm) -- the trading mechanism set up so that the North can buy its emission quota by investing in cleaner power plants or planting trees in the south.
If the eu has to make it to 55 per cent it needs Japan. Japan in turn needs the definition of sinks to be expanded and to be given as much leeway to meet its emission reduction target from sinks. For this, Japan needs g-77 to drop its opposition
to including sinks in cdm. The bottomline is that the eu needs g-77 and China, for Japan's sake.
But by early July positions changed again. At a Koizumi-Bush summit, Japan's premier changed sides. With the country sinking deeper into a recession, he was clearly not in a mood to antagonise his largest trading ally. Although just a week ago he had called Bush's position deplorable, he now maintained that if Washington and Tokyo cooperated, they would be able to "create means that will be more effective in dealing with global warming issues." Koizumi ended the summit visit with an agreement that "he would not proceed without the us."
A few days later, this time after his meeting with Tony Blair, uk prime minister, Koizumi said that Japan would make efforts "until the very last minute" to bring the us on board. He left the issue of going without the us open. He has, however, stated clearly that Japan will not make any decisions on ratifying the protocol until cop-7 in October 2001. Japan's prevarication is clearly strategic. Already, nervous negotiators are willing to offer sops to bring Japan on board. Pronk announced that he was willing to agree to extend the deadline for industrialised countries by two years. The uk has announced that it is willing to support changes to the Kyoto protocol, to support Japan's efforts to bring the us back on board. There are also indications that the compliance provisions will be kept so weak as to render the entire Kyoto commitment almost voluntary. Australia and Canada, who hold the other two casting votes, are also keeping their options open.