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CLIMATE CHANGE: Another Go at Cracking Those Hard Nuts

Julio Godoy

ROME, Jun 11 2009 (IPS) - Environmental legislators from the 13 countries with the largest greenhouse gases emissions are meeting in Rome this Friday and Saturday to discuss steps towards the UN climate change conference scheduled in December in Copenhagen.

The meeting of the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE) brings together environmental law makers from the eight most industrialised countries (the G8 formed by the U.S., Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and Russia) and from the five developing countries with the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa).

The meeting takes place against the backdrop of an unchanged U.S. opposition to substantial reductions of such emissions. The U.S. opposition became evident again in the debates towards a new international protocol on reducing GHG that took place in the German city Bonn over the last few days.

According to numerous delegates from industrialised countries at the Bonn negotiations, the U.S. government continues to reject substantial GHG reductions for industrialised countries.

The UN conference in Copenhagen is supposed to formulate a new international binding protocol, to substitute the Kyoto protocol on GHG reductions, which expires in 2012.

“The U.S. government’s opposition towards the Kyoto protocol has not changed, despite the change in the personnel representing Washington in international negotiations, and the change in its rhetoric on climate change,” a German diplomat, who took part in the debates in Bonn, told IPS.

“The U.S. delegates in Bonn did not have a concrete plan for the negotiations,” the diplomat said. “Their only purpose seemed to be to reject large binding reductions for industrialised countries, and filibuster manoeuvres,” he said, referring to long speeches without any apparent objective other than to delay conclusions.

Another European diplomat who was present at the debates in Bonn told IPS, “It is as though the Bush team would still be behind the scenes, making sure the U.S. impedes an ambitious Copenhagen protocol, in the same way it boycotted the Kyoto protocol.”

The European diplomat said that the GHG reductions proposed by the European countries and by the U.S. government are not compatible. “European Union member countries are about to reduce emissions by up to 30 percent by the year 2020,” he said. “But the U.S. government is willing to reduce at best six percent of the country’s emissions.”

Both diplomats asked not to be identified.

The U.S. has the world’s largest GHG per capita, and is the second largest emitter after China.

The Kyoto Protocol set binding targets for 37 industrialised countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but did not include emissions by emerging developing countries such as China. The Kyoto objective is a five percent reduction against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.

Experts from environmental organisations, who attended the Bonn debates as observers, confirmed the diplomats’ observations.

Karsten Smid, in charge of climate change issues at the environmental organisation Greenpeace, told IPS that “the negotiations in Bonn were a fiasco. The U.S. government is manipulating the U.S. emission figures, to embellish its own reduction objectives,” he said.

But he also accused the EU countries of failing to offer technical and financial support to the developing countries with the largest emissions. “In general, it is the G8 which is failing to successfully lead the international negotiations to stop climate change,” Smid said.

Before the Bonn negotiations opened late May, Ivo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC), said stable financial and technical support from industrialised nations for developing countries to reduce their GHG was one of the “four essentials” towards an ambitious Copenhagen protocol.

The other three essential are how much industrialised countries would reduce their emissions by 2020; clarity on what developing countries would do to limit the growth of their emissions; and a “governance regime”.

Not much seems to be advancing towards these four essentials.

Smid said that the draft communiqué of the G8 summit to take place in July in Italy, and which is circulating in the group’s capitals, includes only a vague recognition of the need to limit the average rise of the global temperatures to two degrees Celsius.

“To make things worse, this weak statement is within brackets in the draft,” Smid said. “What we know about the present G8 debates on climate change is very depressing.”

Scientists researching global warming, as at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have estimated that to contain global warming, and its risks and consequences, warming compared to pre-industrial times (pre- 1900) should not exceed two degrees Celsius.

The GLOBE meeting in Rome is a preparation for the environmental legislators of the 13 countries towards the G8 summit in Italy.

Some 100 legislators from the 13 countries gathering in Rome this week are being joined by several environmental scientists and experts. Their objective is to emphasise the need for urgent action to stop climate change.

“The purpose of our meeting is to call the G8 governments to take action to stop climate change,” Stephen Byers, president of GLOBE, and former British minister for energy and trade, told IPS.

The environment experts attending the GLOBE forum include Martin Lees, secretary-general of the Club of Rome, Antonino Zichichi, president of the World Federation of Scientists, Ashok Khosla, president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Mohan Munashinghe, Vice-Chair of the IPCC, and Colin Bradford of the Brookings Institute.

The Club of Rome, a global think tank, raised the world’s attention to climate change in 1972 with its report ‘The Limits to Growth’. In 1993, it published a follow-up called ‘The First Global Revolution’, which concluded that humankind’s common motivation should be the fight against “pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine…”

IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network – a union formed by more than 1,000 governments and non-governmental organisations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists in more than 160 countries.

The next UN negotiations ahead of the Copenhagen conference Dec. 7-18 will take place Aug. 10-14 in Bonn, to be followed by a gathering in Bangkok Sep. 28-Oct. 9 and another meeting Nov. 2-16 in Barcelona.

A parallel round of negotiations on climate change is scheduled to take place later this month in Mexico, with the participation of delegates from the 16 major economies, following an initiative by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Aside from the United States, the 16 other major economies are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

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