World: Skepticism Hangs over Climate Change Meeting

Expectations Low for Kyoto Protocol Summit in India

NEW DELHI -- Another round of international talks on curbing global climate change began Wednesday in India, a country that sees the United States and the developed world as being part of the problem rather than the solution to global warming.

India will, over the next 10 days until Nov. 1, play host to some 80 ministers and representatives from 185 countries taking part in the eighth Conference of the Parties (COP-8) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).

They will thrash out such issues as the impact of global warming and entitlements and accountability under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Joke Walker-Hunter, UNFCC executive secretary, said COP-8 would mark a "transition from negotiations towards implementation" and hoped that it would "finalize issues that have been under consideration for quite some time."

Under the Kyoto Protocol, industrialized countries are required to reduce emissions from 1990 levels by one percent by 2012, but many developing countries see even this as a case of too little too late.

Opening the conference, T R Baalu, India's minister of environment and forests, pointed to the urgency of the problem of global warming in case the delegates needed a reminder of it.

"Frequent floods and droughts are having serious impacts. Depleted moisture combined with heat stress is projected to reduce the global yield of major foodgrains. The increased risk of negative impacts of climate change in developing countries will worsen poverty," he warned.

"Hunger is estimated to increase, with low income groups less able to afford sufficient food," Baalu added.

Baalu wanted COP-8 to work on implementation of commitments to curbing climate change, and suggested that "adaptation" could lead to sustainable development since the countries with the least resources have the least capacity to adapt and were therefore the most vulnerable.

"We must focus on those who have contributed the least to the problem but are the most vulnerable," he pointed out.

To many, the new emphasis on adaptation seemed a compromise and a way out of rigid positions that held that what really was at stake was the drastic reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that trap heat.

Baalu's acerbic colleague, India's Minister for Science and Technology Murli Manohar Joshi, was even more forthright. Joshi said the main issue was the unwillingness of the developed western world to compromise on unsustainable lifestyles.

A former professor of physics, Joshi said that even the basis on which the international community addresses climate change was "fundamentally flawed" -- and that attempts were being made to "confuse the symptoms with the disease and offer cures which can at best delay the consequences."

According to Joshi, as long as "certain entrenched and powerful interest groups" were allowed to pursue constantly higher levels of consumption with unlimited consumer choice to maximize profit, there was little hope in tackling climate change.

Joshi questioned what he called an attempt to pin the issue of climate change on carbon dioxide emissions alone, rather than see it as a function of "total energy consumption and use or misuse of energy in the developed world."

As if to mollify the host country, India saw the first of the money promised under the Kyoto Protocol last week when the World Bank brokered a 10 million U.S. dollar deal to set up Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMs) that are supposed to slow down climate change in return for "selling" all "carbon credits" that are thereby earned to "donor" countries.

Yin Shao Loong, researcher for the Penang-based Third World Network, commented that the so-called Clean Development Mechanisms are in fact foreign direct investments (FDI) by another name.

They hold all the associated risks that come with foreign investments, such as shift of capital ownership from domestic to foreign players and transfer of surplus away from host countries associated with private sector investments, Yin said.

"The poorest countries that need CDMs the most face the greatest capital costs from FDI," said Yin, adding that CDMs are far away from the ideal of North-South transfer of environmentally sound technology at concessional rates.

He estimated that 90 percent of World Bank-sponsored oil, gas and coal projects benefit transnational firms based in the world's seven richest countries, while less than nine percent of this energy lending goes to meeting the needs of world's poorest two billion people.

Yin is among those organizing a parallel Climate Justice Summit at a separate venue on Oct. 26-27 to protest the "hijacking" of the negotiations by Northern governments, especially the United States, and transnationals, to "further their own interests."

Among the campaigners is Steve Sawyer from Greenpeace International, who focused attention on a clutch of U.S. oil giants that he said were at the root of U.S. President George W Bush's policies that led to Washington's pulling out of the Kyoto process.

"Our aim is to put pressure initially on the main drivers of Bush's anti-climate policy -- the U.S. oil industry and those who stand with them," said Sawyer, who had ready a list of the main 'offenders' like Exxon/Mobil, Chevron, Texaco, Conoco and Philips. Several of these, he said, emitted more carbon dioxide than some major countries.

Sawyer accused the oil companies of being behind the controversial replacement of Robert Watson as chairman of the Geneva-based Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in April, after he called for urgent action to curb global warming.

Nevertheless, Sawyer said he hoped that R K Pachauri, the man who replaced Watson, a well-known Indian environmentalist with a pro-industry outlook, would live up to an early promise of being supportive of implementation of the Kyoto Protocol.

The protocol is now inching toward the 55 percent threshold, with Russia and handful of other countries ready to ratify it soon.

The London-based international coordinator for Friends of the Earth International, Kate Hampton, said the parallel summit was being held because "the poor are going to be the most affected and they are the least represented at these forums."

Future commitments to reduce greenhouse gases are expected to be among the contentious issues at the conference.

Industrialized countries like Denmark, Canada, Japan, Norway and Britain would like to address this issue, but developing countries are keen on limiting talks to the implementation of the developed countries' existing commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.

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