World: Climate Talks Hinge on US Elections

Publisher Name: 
Inter Press Service

BUENOS AIRES -- The United States has been the key
actor in
preparatory negotiations leading up to the climate change
conference to be
held at The Hague this month, leading many to fear that US
presidential
elections Nov 7 will mean the enactment of the conference's
resolutions will
be put on hold.

There are also those who suggest that the 175 countries
participating in the
Nov 13 to 24 meeting, in which delegates are to hammer out ways to
meet the
goals set for reducing emissions of climate-changing greenhouse
gases, will
not adopt any decisions before January, when the new US president
takes
office.

The date of this Sixth Conference of Parties (COP6) to the United
Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 'was poorly
chosen, because
it falls so close to the elections in the United States,'' said
Ral Estrada
Oyuela, head of the Argentine delegation and one of the chief
international
negotiators on climate change.

'It is highly doubtful that the European Union (EU) will yield
from its
position on key issues knowing that in a few months there will be
a new
administration in the United States, and many of us believe that
The Hague
agenda should be left open until a new date, such as a meeting in
June 2001,
'' Estrada Oyuela told IPS.

Scientists worldwide are urging nations to reduce emissions of
various types
of gases, especially carbon dioxide, that accumulate in the
earth's
atmosphere and cause the so-called greenhouse effect. In other
words, these
gases trap solar radiation, which leads to global warming.

This warming causes polar ice to melt and sea levels to rise,
which in turn
produces flooding. The process also provokes extreme weather
phenomena, such
as droughts and hurricanes, and contributes to the spread of warm-
climate
diseases like malaria, and to the extinction of plant and animal
species.

The concentration of emissions produced by human activities has
meant that
the average temperature increase over the last decade was the
highest of the
millennium, say experts in climate change research.

The weight of US participation in the talks is underscored by the
fact that
it is responsible for 40 percent of the industrialised nations'
emissions of
these gases, and for 25 percent of emissions worldwide, according
to the
secretariat of the Convention on Climate Change.

The US State Department's Under-Secretary for Global Affairs,
Frank E. Loy,
admitted as much in September in a speech before the US Senate
when he said,
''any agreement that excludes the United States will not control
global
warming. European businesses may wonder why they are asked to
assume
significant new climate change obligations if their US competitors
are not
going to be subject to roughly the same rules.''

But beyond that consideration, Washington assures that polluting
gas
emissions in the United States have fallen with respect to the
rise of the
country's gross domestic product (GDP).

Official data indicate the economy grew four percent in 1999,
while carbon
dioxide emissions rose just one percent.

The United States has pressed for the flexibilisation of abatement
commitments since negotiations began, and won the inclusion of
mechanisms
that environmental organisations consider highly questionable.

Loy, however, sees the mechanisms as ''a victory'' for his country
that will
permit it ''to dramatically lower the costs of emissions
reduction.''

Juan Carlos Villalonga, in charge of energy affairs for the
Argentine office
of Greenpeace, the international environmental watchdog, told IPS
''the
discussion now is to define whether we want the United States
excluded from
a good environmental accord, or included in one that is tarnished
in spirit
due to the concessions made.''

The objective of COP6 is to push for compliance with commitments
to curtail
greenhouse gas emissions that were agreed in a series of meetings
that began
in 1995 in Berlin.

The UNFCCC was approved in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de
Janeiro, and
entered into force in 1994. One year later, a series of annual
meetings
began with the participation of the Convention's signatories.

In 1997, increasingly aware that gas emissions were on the rise
despite
international warnings, the third Conference of the Parties, held
in Kyoto,
Japan, wrote up a new document with additional commitments and
quantified
targets for reduction of the greenhouse gases emitted in the
industrialised
North.

Environmentalists believe what is now known as the Kyoto Protocol,
which has
yet to be ratified by any industrialised nation, conceded too much
to the
United States.

Estrada Oyuela, who presided over the commission that drafted the
text, says
''the Protocol is not ideal, but is what we were able to do to
prevent the
United States - the world's chief polluter - from leaving'' the
negotiating
table.

And Washington continues trying to impose its points of view on
the
negotiations. According to Loy's speech before the Senate, the
principal
duty of President Bill Clinton's administration on this matter was
to ensure
that the Kyoto Protocol included the most cost-effective
mechanisms for
complying with emissions reduction targets.

In other words, the investment of industrialised nations in
research and
development of clean and renewable technologies would be
compensated by
reducing costs through mechanisms ultimately included in the
Protocol:
emissions trading, clean development and joint implementation.

The first, emissions trading, allows the North to exceed the
emissions
quotas established under the accord by purchasing credits from a
developing
country that has reduced emissions through cleaner industrial
production or
a decline in economic activity, as has occurred in Eastern Europe
and
Russia.

Clean development, meanwhile, allows an industrialised country to
surpass
its greenhouse gas limits if it aids in carbon-trapping forestry
projects,
for example, in developing countries. This mechanism continues to
spur a
great deal of criticism and its implementation is to be discussed
at The
Hague.

Joint implementation means that a wealthy nation that exceeds its
emissions
limits must assist in curbing greenhouse gas output in another
country of
the North so that their average emissions volumes meet targets set
by the
Protocol.

''Some have expressed concern that our approach could undermine
the
environmental integrity of the agreement,'' Loy told the Senate.
''We, too,
want a strong agreementbut not one that is more expensive and
painful than
necessary.''

The US official predicted that two groups would clash at The Hague
conference. One is the EU, which according to Greenpeace has
positions that
approach those held by environmental groups, and the other side,
an
''umbrella group,'' would be made up of the United States,
Australia,
Canada, Japan, Norway and Russia.

''The European Union and the umbrella group share the same major
objective:
to create a climate protection regime with great enviromental
integrity...
In contrast, the EU and the umbrella group's approaches to the
question of
the Protocol's costs are quite different,'' Loy pointed out.

''Some in Europe think that we have a moral obligation to change
our
lifestyle as quickly and radically as possible,'' he explained,
but we
believe ''that the most cost effective and affordable solutions
will build
the broadest public support for action and stretch our dollars to
achieve
the maximum enviromental protection.''

The United States and Europe are clearly at odds on certain items
of the
COP6 agenda, such as ''supplementarity.'' The Kyoto Protocol
establishes
that the mechanisms included are to be supplemental to the efforts
of each
country to curb greenhouse gas emissions, though the document does
not
specify percentage.

For the United States it is ''arbitrary and distorting'' to put a
cap on the
ability of industrialised nations to use the mechanisms, while the
EU says
countries that have cut domestic emissions by 50 percent should be
the only
ones allowed to implement the supplemental measures.

Estrada Oyuela and Villalonga believe Washington is attempting to
count
emissions trading and other mechanisms towards its abatement
target in order
to avoid the budgetary requirements of investing in clean
technologies.

But Loy stressed at a London meeting that Clinton had already
convinced the
US Congress to earmark one billion dollars for a development fund
for the
climate change issue, and this year asked the lawmakers to boost
the amount
to four billion dollars.

Another divisive issue is the US assertion that there should be no
punishment for countries that do not meet their Kyoto goals. The
EU,
however, says there should be a system of fines for non-
compliance.

Also on the negotiating table is Washington's proposal that the
countries of
the developing South must join the North and commit themselves to
emissions
abatement targets.

Loy said that, even though the greater responsibility for curbing
emissions
falls to the industrialised North, it must not be forgotten that
developing
countries already produce 44 percent of fossil fuels, which are at
the top
of the list as atmospheric polluters.

The problem is that the United States does not want limits and,
instead, is
pressuring the South to be an ally in the implementation of the
flexible
mechanisms, which today have transformed into business
opportunities for
countries hungry for investment, maintains Greenpeace's
Villalonga.

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