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Analysis

The climate for a change

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Jul 15, 1996 | From the print edition
Are the nations of the world serious in their much-touted efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions? VINAYAK RAO examines the motives, moods and manifestoes in the run-up to the forthcoming climate change conference in Geneva

-- (Credit: UN Photo)THE stage is set for thesecond Conference of Parties(cop-2) to the UnitedNations FrameworkConvention on Climate Change(UNFCCC)slated forJuly 8-191in GenevaSwitzerland. It may berecalled that the FrameworkConvention on ClimateChange (Fccc) signed at theEarth Summit in Rio in1992had called upon theindustrialised nations toreduce their carbon dioxide(C02) emissions to 1990levels by the year2000This commitment was recognised as only a firstmodest step towardssubstantialreductions in emissions ofgreenhouse gases (GHG) -gases which trap heat insidethe atmosphere.

The objective of theConvention is to contain C02and other GHG emissions atlevels that would preventfurther human interferencewith the climate system.Reaching this goalhoweverwill require much greaterreductions in emissions thanmerely returning them tothe 1990 levels. In factthe Intergovernmental Panelon Climate Change (ipcc) haspredicted that 60 percent cuts are required.
Berlin beginnings The cop-2 will be more of astock-taking exercise toassess the progress (or thelack of it) in the follow-upto the Berlin Climate Summitheld from March 28 toApril 71995In Berlinthe participants attendingtheSummit had reviewed theobligations of industrialisedcountries. The UNFCCCcommits them to reduce theiremissions to 1990 levels bythe year 2000but it doesnot specify what shouldhappen beyond that date. TheBerlin meet had concluded ona modest note by recognising that the existingnature of commitments in theUNFCCC were "not adequate"to meet the threat of climate change. In order to strengthen their commitmentsdelegates sought the negotiation of a protocolwith the goalof setting for developed countries "quantified limitationand reduction objectives within specified timeframessuchas 20052010and 2020". This was called the Berlin mandate.

The Berlin meeting thus sanctioned a round ofnegotiations to strengthen the UNFCCC. But the uson itsparthas demonstrated an extreme reluctance to discussreduction targets and has found vocal allies inAustraliaCanadaJapan and New Zealand. Australia'sdependence on coal exports for foreign exchangefor instanceis the reason for its hostility to measures which might restrictC02 emissions.

in Japanpolicy-making continues to be influenced by thepowerful transport and energy sector lobbies which are alsobiased against any tough course of action. For instanceJapan's new Fiscal 1995 Electric Power Facility Plan approvedby its ministry of international trade and industry indicatesthat the country will not meet its Coemission control target by the year2000the Osaka-based NGOCitizensAlliance for Saving the Atmosphere(CASA) attributes the rising energy usein the residentialcommercial andtransportation sectors as the reasonbehind this incapacity to meet the target. CASA's representative Dwight VanWinkle points outIn effect, Japan
would meet its climate convention
commitments by shifting emissions
offshore, while expanding domestic
consumption of fossil fuels, including
oil, for transportation.
Looking backand ahead One way of evaluating the post-BerlinClimate Summit politics would be tofollow the difficult and compl6x negotiations. What will the Berlin mandatereally accomplish? Or alternativelywhat has it accomplished so far?

Negotiations on the mandateagreed to at the Berlin meet had got off to a slow start inAugust 1995 in Geneva. Despite an ambitious timetable aimedat completing negotiations for further developed countrycommitments under the FCcc before the third Conference ofParties (cop-3) in 1997the ad hoc group charged with thesenegotiations was unable to even agree on the composition ofits bureau in its first meeting.

Discussions focussed primarily on the naturescopeand duration of the analysis and assessment phase called forby the mandate. This p*rt of the negotiation process -the analysis and assessinent of measures for reducingGHG emissions - involveslargelyreporting on anddiscussing national research programmes. There wasdisagreement about what information should be collectedas part of the assessmend haseaimed at identifying policiesand measures that developed countries could use to reduceGHG emissions.

Developing nations alongwith the European Union (EU) stressed that the analysis and assessment phase should be conducted in parallel with negotiations on a protocol or other legally binding agreements to strengthen the climate convention. On the other handthe developed nationsincluding the USargued that the phase shouldoccur before protocol negotiations begin. Theonly meaningful proposal came from Germanywhich called for sizeable CO2 cuts -by 10 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2005and by15per cent by 2010- in the industrialisedworld. German environment minister AngelaMerkel said the goalthough ambitiouswastotally realisticfor the EU as a wholeprovidedthe member-states made clear commitments toimplement national targets and took necessarymeasures to achieve them.

At the December 181995meeting of the EUthe member-states agreed on a number. ofmainly internal issues relating to the on-going negotiations on a protocol to the UNFCCC. Howeverno specific reduction targets were put forward. The only other targetpropo&al on the table so far is Britain's call to developed countries to cut GHG emissions by five to 10 per cent by 2010.Despite pressures from France to abandon targetstheministerial statement confirmed that the EU continues tofavour a 'joint approach' to the protocol- combining policies and measures with targets and timetables. A new and positive element was an agreement that there should be a common reduction target under the protocolwith burden-sharing among industrial countries to be negotiated. This would have to take into account the differences in the countries'respective emission levels and other individual circumstancessuch as economic strength.

Apparentlythe internal agreements and discussions within the EU are geared to maintainthe Union's leadership in climate change negotiations. For instancemember-states are beingasked to report on policiesmeasures and objectives they are currently preparing for the years20052010and 2020. The EU wants to be able topresent a proposal on the policies and measuresto be covered in the near future.

The slate is hazy
A simple yet sure way of examining the seriousness of all such efforts would be to analyse therecord of the major actors so far and see whatcountries can really deliver in terms of national policies and credible projections. The Netherlandsgovernmentfor onehas fIXed its CO2 reduction target atthree per cent below 1990 levels by the year 2000. Earlierpolicy plans had set the target at three-five per cent below1989levelsbut the government now acknowledgesthat it no longer considers a five per cent cut feasible andhas also dropped 1989 as a baseline. A new report from theDutch National1nstitute of Public Health and EnvironmentalProtection shows that the nation's CO2 emissionswhichwere supposed to stabilise at the 1989 levels by 1994instead rose by 3.7 per cent -a result of economic growth combinedwith low energy prices.

According to the Swedish environment agencytheNaturvardsverketbetween 1990 and 1994Sweden'senergy-related carbon emissions grew by five per cent inspiteof an existing carbon tax. Austrian carbon emissionshave risen eight per cent from 1988 to 1994 and it is-doubtful if the existing policies will be sufficient for Austria tomeet its so-called Toronto target of reducing CO2 emissions by20per cent between 1988 and 2005. An indication that theAustrian government was in the process of abandoning theToronto target came in the wake of the creation of the climateadvisory board which replaced the CO2 commission. Theagenda of the newly constituted board does not even mentionthe Toronto target.

Norwayunfortunatelyhas been the first country to haveadopted a national CO2 reduction target only to abandon it; thecountry's parliament has voted by a large majority to abandonthe target of stabilising CO2 emissions at 1989 levels by the year2000The parliament had endorsed the target in 1989. Thegovernment currently forecasts a 16 per cent increase in CO2emissions over this periodlargely as a result of increased oilproduction. Quite interestinglythe Norwegian environmentminister defended the plan to abandon the target by arguingthat Norwegian CO2 emissions accounted for only 0.2 per centof the global total and that instead of making drastic cuts itselfit should export its 'clean' energy to replace 'dirty' energy inother nations.

Even Germany is likely to miss its target of reducing CO2emissions by 25 per cent from 1990 levels by 2005accordingto a study carried out by the Switzerland-based PROGNOSResearch Institute and commissioned by the German economic affairs ministry: The study forecasts a reduction of only about 10.5 per cent due primarily to the economic transition in former East Germany.While emissions from energy use are expected toremain largely constant as a result of technological and energy efficiency improvementstransport emissions are projected to rise as a result ofsubstantial growth in all transport sectors. PROGNOS predicts that between 1992 and 2020gasoline use will increase by 12 per cent despite improved fuel efficiency.

The first pan-European state of the environment reportin preparation since 1992wasrecently published by the CopenhagencbasedEuropean Environment Agency. Europe'sEnvironment: The Dobris Assessment covers 46countries and undertakes a structured overview of the state and trends of European environment and thestresses exerted upon it by human activities. The 650-pagereport inventories 56 environmental problems facing the continentincluding climate changeand points to the transportsector as an area of particular concern. It emphasises the factthat the steady increases in CO2 emissions from transporttheongoing shift towards road transport and the rapid growth inair transport are exacerbating the problem.

The situation on the North Americaa ~ontinent is notassuring either. Recent estimates by the Alberta-basedPembina Institute for Appropriate Developmentprepared forEnvironment Canada (Canada's environment department)show that the nation's GHG emissions increased 4.4 per centfrom 1990 to 1993. CO2 emissionswhich account for 81 percent of Canada's total emissionsincreased 4.7 per cent from19901994A review carried by the climate secretariat saysthat the projections that include existing measures to reduceemissions suggest that Canada's total GHG emissions will increase 13 per cent from 1990 to 2000 unlessthere are new initiatives such as the use of carbonor energy tax. The government is not prepared to review progress on these initiativesuntil December 1996and the team notes that "ifthe government at that time finds that Canada isunlikely to reach its target without more aggressive actionthere will be limited time to implement and see the full effects of initiatives by2000

According to a report from the us department of energy's energy information administration (ErA)total US GHG emissions increased by1.7per cent from 1990 to 1993. Preliminary estimates in the same report suggest thatco2 emissions increased -from 1993 to 1994- equivalent to more than 70 per cent of the growth in the precedingthree years put togetherrepresenting an overall increase from1990to 1994 of 4.1 per cent. Early this yearthe EIA publisheda report called Annual Energy Outlook 1996 which states thatus carbon emissions from energy use will reach 1660millionmetric tonnes (MtC) annually by the year 2010and 1735Mtcby 2015. These estimates are equivalent to 23 per cent and 29per cent increases over the 1990 levels by 2010 and 2015respectively.

The uswith the world's largest economyis responsiblefor almost one-fourth of global CO2 emissions. Efforts to mitigate climate change in the us have received a major setback by the fact that the Congress approved less than 50 per cent of thefunding required to implement the climate change action planin its first yearand there is a likelihood that the second year ofthe plan will receive an even lower share.

Voluntary moves
Interestinglyefforts in the Organization of EconomicCooperation and Development (OECD) countries have reliedalmost entirely on voluntary measures till date - a clear indication of the difficulties encountered by governments in taking concrete measures and the problems of roping in theindustry. But reliance on voluntary measures are unlikely to besufficient to reduce C02 emissions. In September 1995severalindustries in New Zealand had signed voluntary agreementswith the ministry of energy to reduce their C02 emissions.Participants included glasssteelmethanolureaaluminiumplaster board and cement manufacturing companiesas well asa conglomerate based on wood and plastic products. Edchagreement established the company's 1990 base year dateexpressed in most cases as C02 emitted per standard unit ofproduction. The agreements also specified a target to beachieved by the year 2000.

In Octoberthe Australian government formally launchedits 'Greenhouse Challenge' programmea cooperative effortbetween industry and government to reduce GHG emissionsthrough voluntary measures. An allocation of Aus $9.7 million(approximately us $6.8 million) over a four-year period tosupport the development and implementation of this programme was also made. Australia is the world's largest coalexporter and generates 80 per cent of its electricity with coalafact that is leading to concerns that energy related mitigationmeasures could affect national economy and its trade balance.

As a resulta tendency is growing within the OECD todevelop politically safe plans that rely on voluntary action toreduce GHG emissions. This is not a credible response to existing UNFCCC commitments. To be successfulvoluntary actionmust lie accompanied by the use of other policy tools that produce market signalsthereby encouraging this action andestablishing standards that determine a minimum level of performance. Most OECD countries have failed to produce such aneffective package of measures. Unless these countries candemonstrate that they will return GHGS to 1990 levels by theyear 2000the negotiations to strengthen the UNFccc arebound to go nowhere. Any new commitments made in thecontext of protocol necessities will lack credibility and presentinsurmountable problems of compliance and implementation.

The US remains one of the most energy-intensive countriesamong developed nationsand has a very important role toplay by reducing its own emissions Of GHG. Its progress or lackof progress in this area is likely to have a strong influence onthe OECD nations. It is clear from the above analysis that mostindustrialised countries will not stabilise GHG emissions at1990levels by the year 2000. This was also the informationthat emerged at the third meeting of the ad hoc group on theBerlin mandate (AGBM)held in Geneva on March 51996Rather than moving towards stabilisationmost countries areheading in the opposite directionthe convention executivesecretaryMichael Zammit Cutajartold a press conference -although GermanyUK and Russia appear to be on track.

The AGBM is due to finalise its proposals by the time of thecop-3 in 1997 in Japan. Howeverhalfway through its meetingschedulethe group@has had little to show for its efforts ascountries disagree or@ what approach to take. In line with theproposal it had made at a meeting of Eu environment ministers last DecemberGermany has advocated setting bindingacross-the-board cO2 reduction targets of 10 per cent from1990levels by 2005 and 15-20 per cent by 2010. The proposalhas met with a mixedresponse. Some nations maintain thatnew agreements should include all GHGsand not just C02-Australia argues that new targets should be differential andshared among industrialised countriesaccording to factorssuch as their gross domestic producteconomic indicators andemissions.

The Eu has announced that it is investigating I I areaswhere new policies and measures could possibly be taken.These include renewable energy and energy efficiencylabelingtransport and economic instruments. In additiontheOECD and the International Energy Agency are examining arange of possible common actions.

In conclusionit must be noted that the OECD countriesmust demonstrate within this year that they are making a serious effort to meet their current commitments. But to achievereductions in GHG emissionssignificant changes will beneeded in the economy and lifestyles: improved transportation systemsfuel switchinggreater emphasis on renewableresources and the use of economic instruments like carbon orenergy tax to encourage emission reductions.

The process of post-Berlin climate talks reveals that so farno substantive proposals for strengthening the commitmentshave been tabled. Hopefullythis should change in the courseof this yearwhen the focus shifts from analysis and assessment to the product of the negotiations. But in the absence ofsubstantial progress on the part of major industrialised countries in the field of climate protection policyit is unlikely thatthe protocol negotiations will yield a positive outcome.

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