Who wants what, and how?

The subsidiary bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UN FCCC) met recently in Bonn, Germany. These were the first formal FCCC meetings since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol at the Third Conference of Parties (COP-3) in December 1997. After the "who wants what" questions in Kyoto, the negotiators were embroiled in "who wants how" questions in Bonn. Participants suffered a distinct loss of momentum, caused by the many unresolved priorities for COP-4 slated for November 1998 in Argentina. The burden of resolving many complexities is upon the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice (SUBSTA). NIKHAT JAMAL QAIYUM spoke to KOK KEE CHOW, current Malaysian chair of SUBSTA, to get his views on where the negotiations are headed. She also spoke to ESPEN RONNEBERG, counselor, Permanent Mission to the United Nations of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Published: Saturday 15 August 1998

'There is no consensus among G-77 nations'
espen ronneberg, counsellor, Permanent Mission to the United Nations of the Republic of the Marshall Islands

The US expects developing nations to take their word for the workability of the emissions trading scheme without explaining how it would work. There is no de facto explanation of entitlements and no explanation of how the mechanism would function

On the conclusions reached on the sinks issue:
There is agreement that the best way to move forward on the issue is to have a workshop in' August-September 1998. Parties are to submit proposals by August 15 to the secretariat to advise the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). There is also an agreement on the need for an IPCC special report to be ready by June 2000 for consideration prior to the Sixth Conference of Parties. Remaining issues will be included in the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR). The Marshall Islands and many others proposed the last. A technical report, as asked by Canada and the. United States, was not possible because many questions from the Second Assessment Report (SAR) have not been answered as yet.

However, the provision for decisions to be taken by a workshop creates legal problems. There is no provision under the convention to allow such actions. This might set problematic precedents. There is also the question of attendance at the workshops. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) will not be able to participate. An unrepresentative body will take decisions. It is not fair to impose this, especially since the issue of sinks is so controversial. Then the question arises about what to do after the workshop. The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) will consider inputs from the first workshop. A second workshop is being proposed in the spring of 1999. This again would raise substantive as well as procedural issues. It is not clear whether there will be substantive inputs from the first workshop. Also, there is no peer review associated with the IPCC process. I am not sure about the sinks issue being resolved through intermittent meetings.

On the polarisation of parties on the sinks issue:
It was basically the JUSSICANNZ (Japan, US, Switzerland, Iceland, Canada, Australia, Norway and New Zealand) versus the European Union (EU) plus the Group of 77 ( G- 77) and China on most issues. Among the G- 77, Brazil, Costa Rica, Indonesia, the Philippines and Marshall Islands were the most vocal, but there was not much co-ordination among the G-77.

On the fighting points in the sinks contact group:
The issue of timing was resolved by rejecting the us proposal for a quick report. There was a debate on the issue of the workshop taking decisions and on the question of the special report (placed by the JUSSICANNZ and made subject to resolution on other issues). Another major issue was which Articles were to be discussed in the special report. There was agreement among the EU, G- 77 and China that the report would discu&s only Articles 3.3 {forests as sinks), Article 3.4 (other sinks) and Article 3.7 (calculation of assigned amounts based on calculation of sinks). The US, however, wanted all articles of the protocol to be included.

On entitlements:
I would like more of it. It is intellectually interesting. My ministry is drawn to the idea but there are problems associated with it. The problems are in the shape of huge gaps in the calculation of per capita entitlements. Small island states are high emitters compared to some other developing countries. They might have to reduce emissions drastically. Differentiated targets should be set up.

On the US negotiating position:
To give an interesting analogy given by the foreign affairs minister from Tuvalu; the unfortunate reality is that the situation is like that of ants on a leaf in a big pond and an elephant coming to drink water from the pond. We all agree that he is thirsty, but the fear is of the splash and the incivility with which the elephant drinks. (No insult to the elephant, of course!)

On emissions trading:
The US expects us to take their word for the workability of the emissions trading scheme without explaining how it would work. There is no de facto explanation of entitlements and no explanation of how the mechanism would function. The acid rain analogy may work in the US. Perhaps a similar scheme could work for carbon dioxide in the US. But there are no compliance procedures or penalties which could be imposed on countries. This is a fundamental gap which hasn't been explained.

It is possible to work out some arrangement in this process but that means dealing With a large number of issues -for instance, penalties, credibility and compliance. Equity questions will arise when there is a "snowing" over of what the rules will be.

On consensus within the G-77:
There is not much consensus among the G- 77. There are a number of competing interests and motivations. The AOSIS is very keen to see the Kyoto Protocol coming into effect. On the other hand, it is not interested in questioning the credibility of real emission reductions. The developing countries do not understand what most proposals entail.

Then there are also many countries that would want to see the process fail. They do not ask preliminary questions and are delaying decisions within the group. Also, at this level, the G-77 is not able to meet and discuss these issues and share information on technology and mechanisms. However, formal sub- regional meetings are not a good idea as they would be seen as an attempt to split the G-77.

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