Climate Change

Climate Control

Politics gets the better of common sense on the issue of global warming. At the upcoming climate change talks in Buenos Aires, US-led developed countries will try to ensure that ceilings on non-domestic emission curbs do not materialise. They will press for fast acceptance of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) by the South. The North's strategy for this is: divide the South and rule. The war on global warming will be won at the South's cost. Down To Earth reports on how countries are revealing their true colours

Published: Sunday 15 November 1998

Climate Control

-- Africa succumbs to CDM At a meeting organised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi on October 23, African ministers of environment agreed on a common position on the Clean Development Mechanism, one of the "mechanisms" established as part of the Kyoto Protocol. The ministers agreed that Clean Development Mechanism is "a high priority since Africa is the most vulnerable continent when it comes to the impact of climate change".

Africa's decision will surely weaken the developing countries' stand on the flexible mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol in Argentina. For developed countries, however, this will prove valuable. They had been more than persistent in their attempts to coax their developing counterparts to accept the Clean Development Mechanism, designed to assist developed countries to undertake projects (for reducing greenhouse gas or GHG emissions) in developing countries. In return, the developed countries will receive credit in the form of certified emission reductions which they can use to meet part of their emission control targets as specified in the Kyoto Protocol. This would allow developed countries to show emission reduction through projects set up in the Third World, while their emission levels remain unchanged at home. The polluters would continue to pollute, while the poorer nations suffer.

Aussies hide behind USA
At Kyoto last year, while everyone was demanding reductions in GHG emissions, Australia wanted to hike its own by as much as 20 per cent. A member of the JUSSCANNZ block that includes Japan, the us, Switzerland, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, the Russian federation and Iceland, it is part of the umbrella group which supports the us and has earlier demanded increased participation from the developing countries.

The Australian Federal Cabinet recently decided not to ratify the Kyoto Agreement unless the US Senate ratifies it first - an unlikely event.

At a meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Mineral and Energy Council in September, resources and energy Minister Warwick Parer told mining and petroleum lobbyists that the Kyoto Protocol was "flawed". "Our position was very clear, as was the US's. They are not going to ratify it until the developing countries come in, and we are not going to ratify it until the Americans agree," Senator Parer said.

There will be added pressure on them to accept "voluntary commitments" to cut their GHG emissions: something that neither the climate convention, nor its protocol requires them to do. Clive Hamilton from the Australia Institute sums up Australia's stand. Hamilton thinks that Senator Parer's statements only reveal how the country is desperately looking for a fast way out of last year's Kyoto agreement.

Australia is using the US stand on the Kyoto Protocol as a ploy to put pressure on developing countries to accept all the flexible mechanisms suggested at the Kyoto meet.

With Australia hiding behind the US 'petticoat' and Africa giving in to Clean Development Mechanism, the US's position is quite strong. EU backtracks on flexible mechanisms
In February 1998 the European Union (EU), a major opponent of the us and a key player in climate control, said that the developed nations should cut GHG emissions at home, before venturing to other developing countries and showing emission reductions through Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation. It also decided upon a ceiling for meeting emission reductions through these mechanisms. A developed country could meet only a certain percentage of emission reduction through Clean Development Mechanism or Joint Implementation projects. The Commission's communication even showed how the EU can reduce emissions by 15 per cent by 2010 at low cost without using these mechanisms.

But in September, the EU took a decision that was a dilution of its earlier statement. It now voted for "the maximum degree of flexibility, including Joint Implementation and trading in emissions rights". The Climate Network Europe (CNE), reacting against the 'new' EU decision, said that the it overlooked that at Kyoto, these mechanisms were introduced as 'supplemental means' for countries to fulfil their emission reduction commitments, and should only be limited to a certain percentage.

Enter Global Legislators' Organisation for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE), a parliamentarian organisation with its members in the EU, the German NGO Forum on Environment and Development, and the German League for Nature and Environment. Severely criticising the EU for its change in stand, they point out that the new decision contradicts the previous resolution that supported the development of domestic policies and measures. Incentives for developing these will be reduced without a ceiling for the usage of flexibility mechanisms.

Lack of short-term domestic action, stress the NGOs, increases investment in long-lived carbon-intensive capital stock. This will have its own effects: either a weakening of further commitments in the next phase of climate negotiations since a country is unwilling to retire such stock early, or massive and hugely-expensive stranded assets when such commitments have to be made/Advocating maximum use of the flexibility mechanisms by the EU will be seen as a betrayal by the developing countries. Its negotiating positions would be sabotaged because it will be playing directly into the hands of the us at Buenos Aires," warns CNE.

The US divides and rules
The US never hesitates to put forth its point of view. During a visit to Japan, the US undersecretary Stuart Eizenstat attended a meeting on climate change. Later at a press briefing, he said the Clean Development Mechanism was a "win-win situation for both the developed and developing countries". Win-win situation? Only for the developed countries.

He also said that an effort be made to involve the private sector and NGOs in the process, suggesting that these groups should shift their focus on how to make the flexible mechanisms work.

Speaking of the meeting, Eizenstat said there was also a discussion of "appropriate participation" of developing countries. That certainly laid the groundwork for raising the issue of voluntary commitments and meaningful participation by these countries at the meet in Buenos Aires.

In his speech, he referred to the developing countries' commitments, classifying them into the four groups. The countries that are closest to the developed economies, such as Korea, Mexico, Turkey and some others, should commit as much as the developed countries, he said. Small countries with growing economies, such as Singapore and Israel, are expected to take on a binding legal reduction commitment. Countries with middle-sized economies and emission levels - Argentina, Brazil - should commit according to their economic growth. And all other nations should, Eizenstat said, make voluntary commitments.

Eizenstat also clarified that he supports all the flexibility mechanisms: the clean development mechanism, joint implementation with credits, and emissions trading, "We strongly agree that such emissions trading should be unfettered and without limitation. We disagree with the EU'S efforts to impose numerical caps (ceilings on the reduction of emissions through the trading of quotas)," he said. "We also strongly believe, together with Japan, in the need for developing countries to participate this global problem," he added.

Eizenstat reaffirmed the US stand of not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol until the key developing countries take "suitable action". Commenting on COP-4, the under-secretary said, "We see Buenos Aires as not being something where there'll be great breakthroughs as Kyoto."

Japan follows US lead
NGO reports from Japan suggest that the country is following the 'do-nothing' us path. Japan's ultimate priority is to put the Kyoto Protocol into force. For this, ratification by each country, especially the US is of utmost importance.

Consequently, the government does not want to put ceilings on the flexible mechanisms discussed at Kyoto and wants to decide on these mechanisms as quickly as possible so that countries can ratify the Protocol. It wants to make these mechanisms as unconditional as possible, putting in almost anything, in an attempt to satisfy the US. Japan plans to cut its own emissions through domestic actions anyway, so it is not bothered much about these mechanisms. Its main priority is to make Clean Development Mechanism operate as soon as possible. What the Japanese government would not want the NGOs to do is to demand on too many issues, such as compliance, review of adequacy, and caps on emissions. However, the contradiction is that, the government is not going for ratification at all.

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