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CLIMATE CHANGE: Kyoto Protocol Targets Stressed at UN Meet

Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Apr 1 2008 (IPS) - Negotiators from the developing world took on the world’s richer nations as the first round of talks began here for a new pact to curb global warming. The fate of the Earth’s future lies in the actions of the industrialised world, they say.

Such a tone grows out of the concern that the developed world, the major polluters of the planet’s atmosphere since the industrial revolution, will embark on another round of delaying tactics than meet the initial commitments pledged under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Under the protocol, an environmental treaty that was added to give teeth to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 37 industrialised nations and the European Community (EC) have agreed to reduce greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions by five percent by 2012. But only a few appear on course to meet this target, most of them from the EC.

‘’The commitment made by the developed world must be kept. Those who have ratified the Kyoto Protocol have to meet their targets first,’’ John Ashe, head of the Group of 77 and China (G-77), told IPS. ‘’New issues should not be brought on board.’’

The urgency for the industrialised countries to meet their emission cuts were agreed to at the U.N. climate change conference in Bali, in December 2007, added the ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, whose G-77 bloc includes 130 members from the developing spanning Africa, Asia and Latin America. ‘’We are concerned that the (industrialised nations) have not given sufficient priority to the legal mandate of achieving quantified emissions limitations and reduction commitments through national actions.’’

The Bangkok Climate Change Talks, which run from Mar. 31 to Apr. 4, have twin tracks. One deals with commitments made by the developed nations – other than the United States, which is not a party to the protocol – to meet their GhG targets. The second track, open to all countries, begins negotiations for a global environmental treaty after the Kyoto Protocol expires, in 2012.

Both tracks are expected to meet at a 2009 U.N. conference in Copenhagen, where the new international pact to save the planet from rapid global warming is to be sealed. ‘’We now stand at the dawn of a very busy one-and-a-half years in the climate change process and we need to respond to those expectations,’’ Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, said during Monday’s opening of the talks. ‘’(Negotiations) need to conclude with an agreed outcome in Copenhagen.’’

The Bangkok meeting, which has attracted over 1,100 participants from 163 countries, is expected to set the tone of what de Boer described as ‘’extremely complex’’ negotiations. But ‘’one of the big advantages of this process is its transparency; all the governments are at the table,’’ he added.

Four key areas will frame discussions leading to Copenhagen. They are human interventions to mitigate GhGs, helping countries to adapt to the ravages of global warming, cleaner technologies for economic growth and a financial package to assist developing countries shape appropriate responses to climate change.

And research by an international panel of experts have warned of the devastating cost the world will face if governments fail to strike a comprehensive deal for a new global agreement. The worst affected will be the world’s poor, impacting tens of millions from Africa and Asia to the small island nations.

In Bali, developing countries displayed a major shift in tone to avoid such a catastrophe by agreeing to a set of national ‘’actions’’ to reduce their GhG emissions. In exchange for such domestic reductions, the developing world wanted the rich nations to help with green-friendly technologies and finance within ‘’the context of sustainable development.’’

It is a message that has gathered strength here. ‘’Developing countries need to ensure a better quality of life for their citizens. And the financial commitments from the developed nations are necessary if we are to play our part in eradicating poverty while reducing our greenhouse gas emissions,’’ a South Asian delegate told IPS. ‘’We are talking of a long-term cooperation, for which those who have to take the lead must show demonstrable progress.’’

In the long run, developing countries cannot be expected to map out targets until the industrialised countries agree to ‘’additional emissions reduction commitments’’ and ‘’meet their obligation to developing countries in respect of additional funding, technology transfer and capacity building,’’ the Indian government said in a statement at the talks.

This two-step approach is winning support from green groups attending this week’s meeting. ‘’Somebody is going to have to take the first step forward, and the burden of proof lies with the industrialised nations to do so,’’ says Shruti Shukla, coordinator for energy and climate policy at the India office of the World Wildlife Fund.

‘’Developed countries are dilly-dallying about their commitments to the Kyoto Protocol here,’’ she added in an interview. ‘’That is the first step of their commitment to combating global warming, and they are way behind.’’

But getting that message across continues to be a challenge. ‘’This is not a war on economic growth, but a war on carbon emissions,’’ said de Boer, of the UNFCCC. ‘’We will need to see a lot more in the future to make green growth economically viable.’’

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