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Kyoto Protocol Confirmed As The Only Game In Town

by Richard Ingham
Montreal (AFP) Dec 12, 2005
Critics damn it for a long list of reasons and it has been declared dead several times, but the Kyoto Protocol emerged stronger than ever after the Montreal conference on climate change that ended here Saturday.

In a meeting that was gruelling and dramatic even by the extraordinary standards of past years, the UN pact for tackling greenhouse gases saw off a series of assaults and defiantly set its eyes on new horizons.

Gathering against a backdrop of ever-starker scientific warnings about global warming, Kyoto's 159 members approved crucial decisions on strengthening the treaty's mechanisms.

They also agreed to launch negotiations from next May on cutting greenhouse gas pollution beyond 2012, when the present Kyoto pledges run out.

The agreement will lift a dark shadow of uncertainty that had fallen over the fledgling market in carbon dioxide (CO2), an important Kyoto device set up to leverage cuts in emissions.

But it equally sent two in-your-face messages to the United States, a bitter opponent of Kyoto as well as the world's worst carbon polluter, accounting by itself for nearly a quarter of global emissions.

It told President George W. Bush that his rival format for tackling global warming -- a mix of voluntary emissions cuts, smart energy technology and "partnerships" with Asia-Pacific nations -- has failed to sap any support for Kyoto and its cap-and-trade format.

And it warned US politicians and businesses that, if the protocol's machinery works as well as its supporters claim, American corporations will lose out on the profits that can be reaped from the global carbon cleanup, so long as their country stays outside the Kyoto club.

Any US return to Kyoto is clearly impossible so long as Bush, who dramatically abandoned the treaty in 2001, remains in office.

And even after his departure in January 2009, there is likely to remain a groundswell of hostility to Kyoto in the United States.

To meet Kyoto's benchmarks requires industrialised countries to impose tougher fuel efficiency standards, regulations on CO2 emissions and laws to encourage use of renewable energy.

Such measures will be opposed by the US fossil-fuel and auto lobbies and by many American consumers, fearful of being wacked in the wallet.

But, a few years from now, another decision made at Montreal could well help to coax the US back into the Kyoto fold.

This one, made under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), of which the United States remains a member (as opposed to Kyoto, of which it is not), calls for a non-binding "dialogue" on long-term emissions cuts among all parties.

The US delegation fought bitterly against this process, suspecting it to be the thin edge of a Kyoto wedge, or at the very least yet another disaster-in-the-making for the US image.

For all these big successes in Montreal for Kyoto and its supporters, the path ahead for the treaty remains sown with pitfalls. Just as 2005 showed off Kyoto's strengths, 2006 may well show its weaknesses.

Veterans of the Kyoto process are bracing for another battle of national interests next year as negotiations are launched for the post-2012 round of cuts.

Huge political and economic interests will be at stake. How big should the cuts be? Who will make them? In short, how should the pain be shared?

The most explosive question is how much, or even if, China and other fast-growing populous countries such as India and Brazil, should join industrialised countries in making pledges to cut their emissions. The haggling can be expected to run until 2008 at least, diplomats warn.

Another looming problem is whether the EU countries, Japan and Canada will be able to deliver on their famous promises on making emissions cuts by 2012, as compared to their pollution levels of 1990.

Most of them are on track for missing the target by a wide margin, a failure that would destroy the argument, sustained by greens for more than a decade, that Kyoto despite its complexity can deliver the goods.

Put these spoiling factors together, add the realisation that the world's biggest polluter will be getting a free ride while the others will be told to clean up their act -- and there is little surprise why so many climate scientists shake their heads and say it's all too little, too late.

related report
Kyoto's Backers Overjoyed At Outcome Of UN Talks Montreal (AFP) Dec 10 - Supporters of the Kyoto Protocol exulted Saturday after the UN's climate-change pact survived yet another dance with death and even emerged strengthened from the ordeal.

The meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to launch negotiations on extending Kyoto beyond 2012, when its current commitments for curbing greenhouse-gas emissions expire.

That was complemented by a roster of important decisions that completed the last remaining pieces of the treaty institutional machinery.

Adding the cherry on the cake was an agreement to launch a "dialogue" under the UNFCCC on long-term emissions cuts with the United States, the world's biggest carbon polluter and Kyoto holdout, and with developing countries.

"Now humanity is equipped to face the worst ecological dangers that it has to face in this century," declared the conference's chairman, Canadian Environment Minister Stephane Dion.

The deal came after a night of anger and arm-twisting in which the United States backed down in its opposition to the "dialogue" and Russia was faced down in a last-minute demand that, if conceded, would have destroyed the conference and possibly the Kyoto process as well.

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin called the UN climate summit "successful" and said it gave new momentum to international efforts to address global warming.

"Today marks a critical and important point," Martin said. "The successful conclusion of the 11th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC and the first Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol gives new momentum to taking action on what is clearly a significant environmental challenge for all people of the world and for future generations."

The outcome was greeted with joy by the European Union (EU), which has dived in several times to save Kyoto over the past four years.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the agreement was only a beginning, "but it is important and demonstrates why it is always worth engaging with America and the rest of the world."

British Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett, whose country is current EU chair, added the Montreal meeting would give an "essential signal" of support for the fledgling international market for trading in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The trading system was launched under Kyoto's format, in which legally-binding limits on CO2 levels are used to drive market incentives for reducing the pollution.

European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "Not only did we successfully implement and improve the Kyoto Protocol, more importantly we gave it a future."

Green groups poured vitriol over two familiar foes at the Montreal talks -- the United States and Russia, which have been accused of trying to wreck every climate-change talks for the past four years.

"As expected, the Bush administration attempted to derail the process, at one point even walking out of the negotiations, but the rest of the world showed a will to move ahead regardless," Greenpeace International's Bill Hare said.

"For once, the Bush administration was forced back to the table and into agreement with the international community."

For the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the outcome "displayed the groundswell of support for real climate action... the attempt by the US, and later Russia, to scupper the talks failed when a broad coalition including major developing countries, Japan, Canada and the EU, rebuffed."

"Kyoto thrives in Montreal, despite (a) last-minute game of Russian roulette," Friends of the Earth International said in a press release.

Elation at Kyoto's latest great escape mixed, however, with prudent reminders that the next few years will be fraught with challenges.

Kyoto countries next year will have to sketch the outlines for the post-2012 negotiations -- another political minefield -- and industrialised nations that have ratified the treaty must prove their good faith by meeting their own emissions pledges, said WWF's Jennifer Morgan.

related report
Blair Welcomes UN Climate Deal London (AFP) Dec 10 - British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the climate change deal agreed at a United Nations conference on Saturday, setting new targets for cutting carbon emissions beyond 2012.

"I welcome the progress that has been made at Montreal," he said of the UN Climate Change Conference in the Canadian city.

"This agreement is the result of years of hard work and is a vital next step in tackling climate change -- the biggest long-term challenge facing the world.

"Of course it is only a beginning but it is important and demonstrates why it is always worth engaging with America and the rest of the world."

A UN conference agreed to extend the life of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and launch a dialogue between Kyoto members and the United States on long-term action for tackling the greenhouse gases that drive dangerous climate change.

Blair praised the role played by Environment Minister Margaret Beckett, who led the European Union delegation. Britain's six-month term as EU president concludes at the end of the year.

"Tackling climate change means tough choices and strong leadership and I would like to commend Margaret Beckett for the dedication and fortitude she has shown in reaching this successful outcome," Blair said.

In a statement released in London, Beckett hailed the successful outcome from the Montreal conference.

"Today is a very important day in the global effort to tackle climate change," she said.

"Despite the deep divisions of recent years, the whole global community including the United States, India and China, have agreed to work together through the United Nations process to examine the way forward.

"The UK and the European Union will do our utmost to ensure that this process is a success."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Key UN Climate Haggle Enters Penultimate Day
Montreal, Canada (SPX) Dec 08, 2005
Marathon talks on efforts to roll back the peril of climate change entered their penultimate day here on Thursday after the United States was dealt a political setback.

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