Kyoto Protocol rescued by agreement in Bonn

THE HINDU [24 JULY, 2001]
By C. Rammanohar Reddy

BONN, JULY 23.The Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that is intended to control global warming, was rescued this morning from an impasse that has lasted many years when delegates from 178 countries capped marathon all-night talks by agreeing on a flawed but potentially groundbreaking package of measures that would operationalise the treaty and meet the 200812 targets for cutting developed countries’ emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels.

It has taken many failed meetings since 1997 before agreement could be reached on the procedures for implementation, monitoring and enforcing the Kyoto Protocol, and everyone agrees that the Bonn package is not a perfect one. But everyone also agrees that yet another failure would have effectively killed the agreement and vindicated the U.S. President, Mr. George Bush’s decision to withdraw from the Protocol because it was, in his words., "fatally flawed". Mr. Olivier Deleuze, chief negotiator of the European Union, said today that "an imperfect living deal was preferable to a perfect but dead deal" and hoped that the U.S. would now "come on board the boat we have constructed for the Protocol".

A final agreement, based on a compromise prepared over the weekend by Mr. Jan Pronk, Environment Minister of The Netherlands and chairman of the conference, had to await a legalistic deal on the consequences of noncompliance. Countries which do not meet their commitments by 2012 will have to subsequently (in 2013-17) make emission reductions of an additional 30 per cent on their unfulfilled targets and also pay an unspecified financial penalty. But the clinching agreement was about how far countries could count the carbon soaked from the atmosphere by new forestry ("carbon sinks") in meeting their targets for reducing GHGs, mainly carbon dioxide. An E.U. climb-down on its earlier opposition to this option brought endorsement of the package by Japan, Canada and Australia, countries which have been tantalisingly close to joining the U.S. in its walk-out. But initial assessments by environmental groups have pointed out that the permission to count the effect of sinks will mean that the true reduction in emission of GHGs from the burning of fossil-fuels will be under 2 per cent, and not the 5.2 per cent target of the Protocol.

The E.U., which has assumed the moral leadership on dealing with global warming, today also made a political declaration promising developing countries additional funding, from 2002 onwards, of half a billion dollars a year for adoption of clean technologies. The developing countries, which are not required under the Protocol to lower GHG emissions, had been unhappy in the past few days that the final language of the Bonn agreement mentioned no numbers and spoke only about voluntary funding. The G77 and China group approved the agreement but not before more than one hiccup caused by their oil exporting country members, which have always been less than enthusiastic about greater efficiency in use of their primary resource, crude oil and natural gas.

The next step will be ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, which has been delayed because of the lack of agreement over the rules for implementation. The Protocol has to come into force by 2002 and it will do so only when countries accounting for 55 per cent of the industrial world’s GHG emissions ratify it. So far, only one country, Romania, has ratified it. The withdrawal of the U.S. (which accounts for 25 per cent of global emissions), therefore, makes it imperative that most of the other industrial countries endorse the treaty. The first test of the newfound commitment to the Protocol will come in the speed with which the members of the European Union, Japan, Canada and Russia ratify this 1997 agreement.

The next question is if and when an isolated U.S. will rejoin the Kyoto Protocol. Mr. Bush has promised his own package of measures at the next meeting of the U.N. climate convention which is to be held in Marrakesh in October. Many in Bonn agree that a deal here was made possible partly because many countries, the members of the E.U., in particular were determined to signal that the Protocol could be made to work without U.S. participation. In a moment reflecting displeasure about the U.S. position, its chief delegate. Ms. Paula Dobriansku, was today booed for a few seconds when she expressed U.S. concern for global warming during her speech at the final plenary of the conference.