Two weeks of discussions on the Kyoto Protocol on climate change have just ended. But core problems remain. The world's worst polluters are still scotfree. It is business as usual for industrialised nations. A report from Bonn

Published: Friday 31 July 1998


-- Six months after the Kyoto meet, governments convened again to deliberate climate-change affairs. The United States led an attempt to set up a free market trading system which would enable the us to do zero at home and allow other developed countries to meet their emissions reduction commitments by paying off nations like Russia which emit less. The message was clear. Put very simply, the rich countries still wish to keep on polluting. As cheaply as possible.

The two subsidiary bodies of the Framework Convention on Climate Change -- the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (sbi) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (sbsta) -- met in Bonn. The joint meeting of these bodies was held to lay the ground for decisions to be taken at the forthcoming Fourth Conference of the Parties (cop-4) scheduled for November this year in Argentina. By May, 39 parties had signed the Kyoto Protocol, those emitting 39 per cent of all industrialised countries' emissions. Far short of what the protocol requires to come into force. (This needs parties which represent at least 55 per cent of the total carbon dioxide emissions. The us and Russia together account for 54 per cent and the protocol cannot go into force unless the two put pen to paper.)

The political agenda
At cop-1, the Ad Hoc Group on Article 13 known as ag 13 was set up to consider the establishment of a multilateral consultative process (mcp) for parties to resolve questions on implementation. At its fifth session in July 1997, ag 13 agreed that the mcp would be an advisory body rather than a supervisory body and that ag 13 should finalise its recommendations by the time of cop-4. But by the time of the Bonn meeting the negotiating text for the mcp remained heavily bracketed (un parlance for negotiating text that is not agreed between parties). It was decided in Bonn to set up a drafting group, chaired by Clara Musendo from Zimbabwe, to incorporate new proposals. Discussions centred around the mcp and its 'constitution.'

There was a sharp division on the exact size of the mcp . The eu and us favoured up to 15 members for "administrative efficiency", the g-77 and China wanted 25 members for "a broader competence base". The constitution was also a tricky issue. And while it was agreed to accept the text on the need for "equitable geographical distribution" between regions, the us had an innovative definition for equity. The us proposed dividing the membership equally between Annex 1 parties (industrialised countries) and non-Annex 1 parties. The us argued that as the mcp committee was the first under the convention, it was not compelled to adopt the un system of apportionment and could frame its own rules. g-77 and China disagreed on the need to rewrite rules for participation. And on June 9, a small group was convened to resolve these two outstanding issues. Finally it was agreed to disagree. The text remains bracketed and will be deliberated at cop-4.

But interestingly, it has been agreed that this intergovernmental body will include independent experts, albeit only those nominated by their own governments. At Bonn, the issue of 'transparency' was also deliberated. But the governments decided that too much openness is not the order of the day.

Flex Mex
The Kyoto Protocol includes three specific mechanisms (also flexibility mechanisms) Joint Implementation (Article 6) cdm (Article 12), and Emissions Trading (Article 17) -- with the explicit aim of "assisting" the industrialised countries to meet their targets. Governments now have to finalise the rules for trading. This joint meeting was designed to "identify preparatory work needed on these rules and to reach agreement on a work schedule for the cop-4," as Bakary Kante, chair of the sbi stated.

There was a sense of desperation amongst the industrialised countries. The meeting in Bonn was full of business groups seeking to enter into deals as fast as possible.

The cheapest and most attractive option for meeting the emission targets of the North is the cdm that will be operated on a project basis in the South. In Bonn, the agenda was to rush through the rules and guidelines so that "real trading" could begin. The us delegate, at one time, even thumped on the table asking to be allowed "to move from paper to action."

There were and still remain differences between the two major negotiating blocks -- European Commission and the jusscannz group of countries (Japan, us , Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Norway and New Zealand, later joined by Iceland and Russia) -- on various rules and guidelines of these mechanisms (see box Trading air). But it was the third block, the Group of 77(g-77) and China's assertion on the need to examine the proposed work plan and methodological issues concerning mechanisms, which formed the basis of the chairman's report for this item.

At the very start of the meeting, it was decided to discuss "mechanisms" in a contact group chaired by Yvo de Boer from The Netherlands and Gylvan Meira Filho from Brazil. The group had to

identify issues related to the mechanisms,

consider a work programme and,

suggest decisions which needed to be taken.The co-chairs presented the group with the draft work programme and timetable. The g-77 and China formed their own group -- headed by an Indian negotiator -- which reworked the co-chair's proposal in their position paper on the mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol. The group also presented its own paper, "Initial list of issues on mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol."

Reconvening to discuss these two papers on June 10, the contact group saw sparks fly between the g-77 and China and the us .

On emissions trading, the g-77 and China have said that it was important to examine "how the emission rights and entitlements of developed country parties will be determined and created for trading emissions. Will this be consistent with the principle of equity keeping in view the historical and current responsibility of developed countries to climate change and the ultimate objective of the Convention?

The us delegation questioned the inclusion of language on rights and entitlements. g-77 and China commented that "rights" are included in the literature on domestic common property resource trading schemes such as "pollution rights". However, the eu and the us insisted that the entitlements for trading have already been established under the Kyoto Protocol. The us said that it is not "rights" but assigned amounts that are discussed in the protocol.

With no consensus possible, it was agreed that the Chairs would prepare a report taking into account all discussions in the contact group. The final document from this group was "a draft" of the conclusions made by the chairs to the joint sbi/sbsta which was compiled on the basis of the position paper prepared by the g-77 and China and included comments and additions received in the contact group from the other two negotiating blocks.

But this chairperson's draft does list the contentious methodological and technical issues which need to be studied on each mechanism. Included in the work programme for emissions trading (Article 17) is the need to examine the "basis of rights and entitlements of Annex 1 parties for trading emissions" and the "determination and creation of such rights and entitlements." But will the North respond to the concerns of g-77 and China? This remains to be seen.

Sinking feeling
The world's forests, soils, oceans and the troposphere are part of its natural sinks, which have the capacity to cleanse carbon dioxide and hence reduce global warming. The scientific methodology used to account for the sinks will be of importance to the countries that have an interest in national sinks that is countries with large land areas and forested areas and between those countries that do not. The two chief protagonists are the us with sink interests -- and the eu with limited sink interests. Understandably, since they have large land areas, Canada and Australia side with the us .

The Kyoto Protocol has already taken the step to make the national sink a resource with value. The Protocol says that industrialised countries, in order to meet their commitments can take into account changes in emissions resulting from "human induced land-use change and forestry activity since 1990. The Protocol also restricts the quantification of sinks to "forestry activity, limited to afforestation, reforestation and deforestation. Therefore, if any country has reduced its deforestation rates after 1990 it can take the benefit of 'net reduced' emissions in its balance sheet.

The us is also very keen to plant more trees this time in developing countries so that it can deduct each tree's fixed carbon from its own account. It therefore, wants forestry-related emission reduction projects under the cdm .

What has been agreed or not agreed upon in the Kyoto Protocol on this issue has become the most divisive issue for these two superblocks. The eu maintained that there are scientific uncertainties and wants the sbsta to call on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ipcc) to address the outstanding issues in a special report. The us discounts the scientific issues and wants action fast. It argues that if this is not done, it will not be able to ratify the protocol.

The most critical issue would be the method of calculating the 'net' emission -- that is if the forest ecosystem has led to increased or decreased emissions in the atmosphere over its lifetime. Forests are both sinks and sources -- they absorb carbon dioxide during their growing period and emit it during deforestation. But calculating the net emission is more than an exercise in addition and subtraction. When trees die, the carbon sequestered over the years is transferred to the litter and soil and is also released to the atmosphere. But in case the tree has been used for products like furniture the carbon could be in the forest product. Therefore, some carbon is released immediately, but the other processes could take years. In addition, there is a fear that what is a sink, now, could become a source with global warming. It is now understood that organic carbon built up in forest soils over the centuries could be released as the temperature of the world increases.

In Bonn, the situation seemed to be in favour of the eu . The report the us was trying to rush through was deferred and despite budget cuts, parallel processes have been initiated to create shortcuts for it. It has been agreed that the secretariat will organise a workshop of experts with the ipcc prior to cop-4 to consider availability of data in relation to that part of the Protocol that relates to land use changes in forestry. And after cop-4, the sbsta will also plan a workshop on the additional human induced activities which affect climate; agricultural soils, land use and forestry. The ipcc has also been requested to prepare a special report on the "methodological, scientific and technical implications of the Protocol, with particular reference to sections dealing with emissions from land use changes and forestry. This report will be discussed only at cop/mop-1 the first meeting of the parties which is expected only after ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by the requisite number of countries.

But the NGOs monitoring these processes remain convinced that this parallel approach will mean that science will be out of step with politics. The us and Canada, for instance, have put forward the position that the workshop scheduled prior to cop-4 should elaborate the definitions of reforestation, deforestation and afforestation. The ngo s state that this would be counter productive as the ipcc would not have determined which activities are quantifiable, verifiable and transparent. "This is politics driving science," say these groups.

Tightening the noose
The stage has been set to tighten the noose on developing countries. The North insists that they also set emission reduction targets

The Framework Convention on Climate Change (fccc) stipulates that the second review of whether the commitments of industrialised countries are adequate or not, "should take place no later than December 31". Therefore, cop-4 will undertake this second review. The first review undertaken by cop-1 resulted in the Berlin mandate which then led to the Kyoto protocol. The Convention provides in Article 4 (d) that such reviews shall take place at regular intervals as determined by the cop , until the objective of the convention is met. As this provision is only for industrialised countries (Annex 1 countries) A desperate attempt to find a way to 'globalise' the commitment is being undertaken. Article 7.2 of the fccc that provides for the review of the implementation of the convention, uses the innocuous word "the parties" and not Annex 1 parties. Industrialised countries are interpreting this to mean "all parties" and that this article provides for non-Annex 1 (developing countries) to opt for targets. This is the stage on which the melodrama will be played out in Buenos Aires and both parties Annex 1 (industrialised) and non-Annex 1 (developing countries) are beginning to get into their act.

Industrialised countries see this as an important means to twist the arm of developing countries to agree on binding targets for limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Developing countries, on the other hand, stress that this is the review of the adequacy of Annex 1 party commitments and that clearly what was agreed upon in Kyoto was very small. One element of this melodrama is to provide for "voluntary commitments" -- to break the developing countries by getting a few to accept that they will "voluntarily" agree to binding targets. Argentina, host of cop-4, had submitted a written proposal to place such a commitment upon itself. This was to be discussed in the upcoming meeting. In the face of opposition from g-77 and China, it was dropped.

Even then it is widely speculated that this will mysteriously reappear at the top of cop-4's agenda and will be used by the North to bargain for concessions on the same issue.

In Bonn, act I of this drama was enacted with great gusto. The eu said it welcomed the need for " global participation " and was ready for discussions with "all " parties at cop-4 and beyond on the review of commitments. Australia, joined it to say that "scientific evidence indicates that actions by Annex 1 countries alone would be insufficient. On cue, the us , added that this was clearly due to the small number of parties involved. Responding to this, g-77 and China said that the second review by cop-4 must respect the fccc mandate and not be distracted by extraneous considerations of "new" commitments for developing countries. The us wanted a provision that would allow the "static" world order created by the Annex-1 list to be modified, keeping in view the newly industrialised countries. A contact group set up to handle the issue of new commitments met only to disagree on the following: whether new commitments by non-Annex 1 parties should be introduced; whether the review should consider action by all parties including developing countries as necessary to meet the objectives of the convention.

Or, whether this review should only be restricted to the review of commitments of industrialised countries.

Also whether the third review should be carried out at cop/mop-2 or be determined by the cop at its future sessions. This drama will now continue in Buenos Aires with the pressure on developing countries mounting on this issue.

What is interesting is the complete divorce of this political review process from the science of global change. The ipcc , Third Assessment Report (tar) is scheduled for release for 2000 or 2001. The first review of the Kyoto Protocol is expected at best around 2004-2005, which would be too late to link science with politics (see box: Political science).

In limbo?
At the closing of the meeting, the sbsta chair Kok Kee Chow from Malaysia, noted that this session had helped the world move forward on important issues. He urged delegates to "see the glass as half full rather than half empty." Therefore it would be right in a way to say that the meeting at Bonn did flag important issues and provided countries with an opportunity to size up the situation before they come to the negotiations in Argentina. But whether the prospects of climate change will bring this intensely unequal world together still remain to be seen. The World Cup certainly did.

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