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Special Report

Another crawl for humankind

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Author(s): Anju Sharma
Dec 15, 1999 | From the print edition
The Kyoto agenda shuffled along at the recent climate change meeting in Bonn, but climate change mitigation was still not in sight

-- (Credit: akhilesh) as the east coast of India was battered by the worst cyclone in years, and Cambodia and Vietnam faced the worst flooding in decades, governments from across the world were at a meeting in Bonn, carefully negotiating ways to wriggle out of commitments to control climate change. The two-way street of climate change mitigation -- to control greenhouse gas emissions or not to control greenhouse gas emissions -- has turned into a complicated maze with getaway routes at every turn, despite alarming evidence of climate change around the world, and huge losses to life and property. Minister Pokotoa Sipeli from the tiny island of Niue in the South Pacific was not joking when he told climate negotiators at Bonn, "I sincerely hope that I won't wake up in the middle of the night in the middle of the ocean because you have failed to do your job."

Admittedly, the fifth conference of parties (cop-5) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (unfccc) showed none of the desperate horse-trading that marked previous cops. This was partly because no real decisions were to be taken this year, and cop-5 was only meant to pave the way for cop-6 in 2000, which will take decisions on the more polemical aspects of the Kyoto Protocol. But the calm at cop-5 was partially deceptive, as the usual rabble-rousers, a group of industrialised countries led by the us, seemed quieter than usual because they had changed tactics from divisive politics at the cop venue, to targeting the foreign climate change policies of individual countries opposed to their position.

Thus in April 1999 Chinese premier Zhu Rongji signed a memorandum of understanding with us vice-president Al Gore on a us $100 million 'clean energy programme'. In October 1999, us secretary of energy Bill Richardson signed a joint statement on 'cooperation in energy and related environmental services' with Indian minister for external affairs, Jaswant Singh. This statement was partly the result of a year's lobbying by Clinton's environmental policy advisor Kathleen McGinty, stationed at the New Delhi-based Tata Energy Research Institute (teri) as a research fellow, working overtime to win support for the clean development mechanism (cdm). cdm is one of the three 'flexibility mechanisms' under the Kyoto Protocol that is currently designed only to help industrialised countries get cheap emission reduction credits (see 'A farce of a face-off', Down to Earth ; Vol 6, No 15).

India has a strong position in the international arena opposing any such projects unless per capita rights to the atmosphere have been allotted, and unless all cdm projects are tied to renewable energy projects. Thus any covert or overt agreement to support cdm under the present regime would have worked to the advantage of the us, and to India's disadvantage. Fortunately, the agreement is carefully worded and gives away nothing more than vague commitments to cooperate in advancing the goals of the unfccc, and early agreement on the flexibility mechanisms. On a rare occasion, the Indian government seemed to have functioned as a whole unit, and consulted with all relevant ministries before signing.

But McGinty has obviously won support for the us position from the Indian industry, which seems bowled over by the promise of short-term financial benefits from cdm. Richardson acknowledged her contribution in his speech to the Confederation of Indian Industries (cii), where he said: " cii and Katie McGinty are to be congratulated. Recognising the dangers of climate change, they saw the tremendous opportunity for India presented by the cdm ."

cii has put out a study, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (usaid), estimating annual cdm flows of us $1 billion annually into India. The study completely ignores the Indian government's position, and shows surprisingly little business -- and environmental -- sense. The Indian government's position is the most rational for climate mitigation -- since the only way to control carbon dioxide emissions is to get out of fossil fuel use immediately. But more significantly for Indian industry, the government position ensures that developing countries like India do not end up getting lower than the price due to them for use of atmospheric space that is rightfully theirs.

Furthering the Protocol
cop-5 may have been comparatively lackluster in its politics, but underlying tensions remained. For instance, the issue of 'caps' or limits on the use of flexibility mechanisms to meet Kyoto commitments continues to be controversial with the European Union (eu) demanding tighter caps and the us refusing to accept any at all. Though both made it clear that they continued to hold strong views on the subject, an outright confrontation on the issue was avoided through tactic understanding between the two groups to deal with it at a later stage.

Discussion on the three Kyoto mechanisms -- joint implementation, the clean development mechanism and emissions trading -- centered on a 'synthesis document' put together in September 1999. The document recorded all views on what the principles, modalities, rules and guidelines for the mechanisms should be, including India's call for equity with respect to per capita greenhouse gas emissions. Additions will be made to this document based on further inputs by the subsidiary bodies to fccc, and the actual bargaining will take place at cop-6. But even the minimal discussions that took place at cop-5 gave observers a taste of things to come. While discussing cdm projects for instance, developing countries said funding for cdm should be additional to oda and other financial commitments. Japan responded by saying there was no such provision in the protocol saying funds should be additional to Official Development Assistance (oda).

Several intercessional meetings and workshops on the mechanisms are scheduled to take place before the cop. Since the mechanisms are the focus of attention of industrialised countries, who see them as the only way they can meet their Kyoto commitments, 2000 promises to be an eventful year, as rich countries try every political trick in the book to get as much leeway as possible. Whether developing countries will get their act together and agree on what they want out of the mechanisms, or whether they will simply give in to the demands of industrialised countries, remains to be seen.

Compliance: How will a country that fails to meet its Kyoto commitments be punished? Some, like Japan, caution against the use of any sort of stringent compliance measures for the Kyoto Protocol, claiming that this could discourage countries from ratifying it in the first place. Others called for an indicative list of consequences to be applied gradually, depending on the cause, type and degree of non-compliance. Australia wanted a menu of consequences for the defaulter to choose from.

The exact nature of the 'sanction' presented a problem. What sort of sanctions could be possibly placed against economically powerful nations? Likely defaulters, including the us, New Zealand, Australia and Canada proposed a 'sanction' whereby the excess emissions by the defaulter are subtracted from levels permitted in subsequent periods -- a concept called 'borrowing' from future budgets. Other countries, including Switzerland, Brazil and Iran supported financial penalties.

The discussion remained at a preliminary stage and it was still not clear whether the compliance system would cover only the emissions reduction commitments under article 3 of the Kyoto Protocol, or all protocol commitments. Versions of a possible compliance system were presented at a 'joint working group' meeting (involving the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (sbi) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (sbsta), the two subsidiary bodies to the (unfccc) by five regional groups. The us wanted a system with different sets of people to carry out facilitative and enforcement functions, and ensure compliance through binding consequences known in advance. Japan called for a single body. The eu preferred one body with two distinctive branches -- one with a facilitative function and the other with an enforcement function. But the Alliance Of Small Island States (aosis) saw the two functions overlapping, and called instead for a separate 'eligibility committee' and an ad hoc appeal body to hear appeals on the imposition of binding penalties.

Under the compliance system, 'expert review teams' would be set up to review information on a country's performance, but several developing countries were against giving these teams the role of triggering action against a non-compliant country. Instead, some of them wanted this role to be vested with the cop /Meeting of parties (mop) which will be held once the protocol is in effect. They also differed over sources of information -- some considered any source 'appropriate' while others only wanted to consider parties to the protocol. Most countries agreed, however, that the compliance body should be a small permanent body, with ensured equitable geographical representation, consisting of scientific, technical and legal experts appointed by governments.

Adverse effects: As in the past, oil producing states continued to insist that they be treated at par with small island states when it comes to adverse effects, since their economies stand to lose from any reduction in the use of oil. Articles 4.8 and 4.9 of the unfccc and article 3.14 of the Kyoto Protocol deal with commitments by industrialised countries to provide funding, insurance and transfer of technology to developing countries that will suffer the adverse effects of climate change. cop-5 managed to separate the issues of funds for adaptation for the small island states and compensation to oil producing states. The draft decision adopted at the cop calls for two workshops to be held before the end of March 2000 to discuss the two issues separately.

Technology transfer: North-South fencing on technology transfer continued, with some Northern countries suggesting that the process be driven by the private sector, and offering cdm as a mechanism with potential for technology transfer. Southern countries such as China expressed their frustration with cdm suddenly becoming a one-shot solution for everything to do with climate change, and reminded Northern countries that their technology transfer commitments were listed under the unfccc, separate from those listed under the protocol. China wanted the commitments under the protocol to be additional to the commitments under the convention. Once again, any final decisions were deferred to cop-6.

Activities Implemented Jointly revisited: Other disagreements between developing and industrialised countries at cop-5 revolved around the Activities Implemented Jointly (aij) programme, where industrialised countries carry out projects to reduce emissions in developing countries, where it is cheaper to do so, rather than in their own countries, where it is more expensive. Since the aij was an experimental programme, developing countries had made it clear that no 'credits' would be given to industrialised countries for projects undertaken in the pilot phase.

Industrialised countries are now pushing for credits under the flexibility mechanisms of the protocol for aij projects. But developing countries, already unhappy with the imbalance in the geographical distribution of the aij projects, most of which have gone to developing countries with better infrastructure, opposed any move to link aij with the Kyoto flexibility mechanisms.

'Voluntary' commitments: At cop-4 in Buenos Aires, Argentina had announced its decision to take on 'voluntary commitments'. This step was viewed by many developing countries as a betrayal, since they were busy fobbing off pressure from the us to take on commitments in contravention to theprinciple of 'common but differentiated responsibilities' for industrialised and developing countries laid down in the fccc. In Bonn, Argentina announced that it would show a 2-10 per cent reduction below a business as usualscenario in the 2008-2012 period.But with presidential elections having taken place recently, Argentinian ngos were sceptical that the commitments would be kept.

Shaking off a senate

The us Senate seems more convinced than ever that the Kyoto Protocol is not worth ratifying. "The Kyoto treaty will impose economic pain without environmental gain," says senator Frank H Murkowski, a republican from Alaska. "It is unlikely to be ever ratified by the Senate." Presidential candidates for the 2000 us elections seem to agree with him. us attempts to postpone the sixth conference of parties (cop-6) to early 2001, after the us presidential elections in 2000, failed and cop-6 was scheduled for November 13-24, 2000 in The Hague, Netherlands.

But, however much the climate convention may try to chase away the specter of us politics from its wake and refuse to be tied down by the country's narrow-minded senate, non-ratification by the us could have serious consequences. Perhaps the only other way to bring the protocol into effect would be through a coalition between the eu, Japan and Russia, which currently seems difficult (see box: Three steps to leadership ).

At least some high-level delegates at cop-6 were optimistic that the protocol could come into effect by Rio+10 in 2002, a target described by United Nations Environment Programme (unep) executive director Klaus Tpfer as 'achievable'.

So far, however, almost two years after industrialised countries undertook to reduce greenhouse gas emissions collectively by 5.2 per cent compared to 1990 levels under the Kyoto Protocol, none of the big emitters have begun to think of how they will make the reductions. The Netherlands plan is to increase carbon dioxide emissions by 15 per cent, but still meet its commitments through the trading mechanisms.

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