Clearing the way

As Russia signs the Kyoto protocol, positive action against global warming seems on the anvil

Published: Friday 30 April 1999

after maintaining a prolonged suspense, Russia, the world's second largest producer of greenhouse gas ( ghg ) emissions, has signed the Kyoto Protocol. Countries already party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( un fccc ) had to sign the protocol negotiated at Kyoto on December 11, 1997 by March 15, this year. Eighty-four other countries, including the us , have signed the agreement to reduce global warming -- which is more than 50 per cent of the countries that attended the global warming conference in Kyoto.

The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty adopted to achieve the 'ultimate objective' of the climate change convention, which is to reach stabilisation of ghg emissions -- believed to cause global warming. As agreed in Kyoto, the treaty would legally bind developed nations to limit their output of fossil fuel emissions and other harmful gases in the next millennium. The protocol has already identified the period 2008-2012 as the first "budget period" for reductions.

Since the Third Conference of Parties ( cop -3) meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last November, pressure had been mounting on countries that had not signed the protocol. Under the Kyoto plan, the protocol could go into effect only after ratification by countries accounting for 55 per cent of 1990 developed world emissions of carbon dioxide.

With the us and Russia together accounting for 53.73 per cent of the ghg s, ratification of the protocol by these two countries is imperative for action to return emissions to the 1990 levels. The us alone accounts for over a third of the world's ghg emissions, while Russia accounts for 17.4 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions among industrialised countries.

In the midst of high tension and drama at Cop -3, the us signed the Kyoto Protocol. This was despite vehement opposition from the us Congress. In fact, the treaty is still to secure approval from the us Senate. By pressing for 'global' legally binding emission targets and meaningful participation of the South, the us leadership has also been trying to shift the onus of responsibility for future action on the developing world.

Nevertheless, since the conference in Buenos Aires, the pressure was on major players like Russia to allow the protocol to take effect. Even three days before the deadline, Russia, Hungary, Iceland, Croatia and the Ukraine were yet to sign the protocol. In what appeared to be a last minute dash, Russia and Croatia finally signed the protocol. However, Hungary, Iceland and the Ukraine have failed to do so.

Almost 80 nations have attached their signatures and seven of the nations most threatened by the effects of climate change have ratified it. Panama, which ratified the accord on March 5, joined El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbados, and the tiny island states of Fiji, Tuvalu, and the Maldives as the first countries to give the treaty governmental approval. Low lying island nations face the fear of rising sea levels if global warming is not checked, while Central American countries are still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Mitch, which killed at least 9,000 people and left millions homeless towards the end of 1998.

With Russia and the us approving the reduction limitations of the protocol, there is hope for some positive decisions at Bonn, when the ninth session of the subsidiary bodies to the convention is scheduled to meet in June to deliberate on technical issues relating to rules, guidelines and modalities for implementation of the convention. But, a number of tricky questions are still to be addressed before any real action begins.

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