NEW DELHI, India -- The refusal of the United States to support the Kyoto Protocol continues to hamper negotiations at the United Nations climate change conference. As the talks near completion, deep divisions remain between negotiators over the roles of the industrialized and developing worlds in the effort to address climate change.
Many environmentalists point to the United States as the source of growing tensions between the developed and developing world that have emerged in New Delhi, as the lack of American commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions threatens to undermine future agreements on climate change.
WWF spokesperson Jennifer Morgan said the United States is trying to "polarize the discussions" and "does not want any current or future action on climate change."
"Progress has been frustratingly slow on the detailed issues here in New Delhi because of the usual sabotage from the usual suspects and a lack of political will from the rest," said Greenpeace campaigner Steve Sawyer. "It seems [U.S. negotiators] are only here to sabotage, obstruct, weaken and delay proceedings."
Some 3,000 participants from 169 countries are in New Delhi for the Eighth Conference of the Parties (COP-8) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
A large part of the debate stems from the omission of any reference to the Kyoto Protocol from the conference's draft declaration submitted by the Indian delegation, prompting sharp criticism from the European Union (EU) and other supporters of the Kyoto Protocol. The draft emphasized efforts to adapt to climate change, but made no mention of the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Implementing the Kyoto Protocol, and devising a plan to build upon it, was supposed to be a primary focus of the conference. Despite the opposition of the United States, which is responsible for 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, supporters hope the accord will become effective early next year once it is ratified by Russia and Canada.
With ratification around the corner, the EU believes that it is time to discuss commitments from developing countries. It also wants a greater focus on mitigation efforts, rather than the adaptive approach highlighted by the draft declaration.
This has drawn anger from many in the developing world, including India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who argued that the industrialized nations have failed on their commitments to reduce emissions and to provide aid for developing countries. Developing countries produce only a fraction of total greenhouse gas emissions, Vajpayee told the conference, and cannot afford the cost of cutting them.
"Climate change mitigation will bring additional strain to the already fragile economies of the developing countries and will affect our efforts to achieve a higher GDP growth rates to eradicate poverty," he said, adding that the developed world must commit more funds to poorer countries for climate change initiatives.
"There is a need for strengthening the capacity of developing countries in coping with extreme weather events, which are increasing in frequency and severity due to climate change," Vajpayee said.
Developed nations have already committed to provide $410 million annually by 2005, but little progress has been made on developing guidelines for disbursement of the funds. These negotiations are ongoing at the conference.
Pressure from the European Union, a majority of the G-77 and China could still result in the insertion into the final text of the need for all countries to ratify Kyoto. A move to have Africa designated as the region most impacted by climate change is also on the table.
The United States, however, has yet to formally weigh in on the draft declaration. The Bush administration will not commit to a formal emissions reduction agreement. Instead, the U.S. has promoted a "pro-growth" strategy of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions relative to the size of its economy. U.S. officials said the country will cut its greenhouse gas intensity, which is how much it emits per unit of economic activity, by 18 percent over the next 10 years.
Despite a presentation at the conference by the United Kingdom detailing how carbon emissions can be lowered without an adverse economic impact, the United States is far from alone in citing economic concerns. Australia has refused to sign Kyoto for similar reasons, and economic pressures on Canada and Russia still threaten pending ratification of the accord.
For the Kyoto Protocol to take effect, 55 governments, including developed countries representing at least 55 percent of that group's 1990 carbon dioxide emissions, must ratify the treaty.
As of early October, 95 parties had ratified, including developed countries responsible for 37.1 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. Russia accounted for 17.4 percent of global 1990 carbon dioxide emissions and Canada for 3.3 percent. The U.S. accounted for 36.1 percent.
There is rising concern, however, that Russia is dragging its feet on ratification of Kyoto. Government officials previously had indicated that ratification was expected this November, but have backpedaled on this commitment during the New Delhi conference.
"We have sent the Protocol documents to different ministries for their assessment," Russia's First Secretary of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nikolai Pomoshnikov said in New Delhi. "If we decide to ratify it, various domestic laws too would have to be amended and so it will take at least three months to one year to decide over ratification."
The conference ends Friday, when ministers are expected to vote on the Delhi Declaration on Climate Change and formally adopt conference decisions.
- 100 Climate Justice Initiative