U.N. Nations Reach Deal to Cut Emissions
by: Charles J. Hanley 17 November 2006
With a concession to China, more than 180 nations at the U.N. climate conference appeared to reach preliminary agreement Friday on next steps toward negotiating deeper future cuts in global-warming emissions, Germany's environment minister said.
Future meetings under the deal would review the workings of the Kyoto Protocol by 2008 with an eye toward setting new emissions quotas after it expires in 2012.
But China was assured that process would not negotiate cutbacks by developing nations, said Germany's Sigmar Gabriel, who expressed some disappointment.
"It is not enough what we reached in the conference," he told reporters. "Urgent action is necessary."
The timetable still required approval by the full conference, expected later Friday.
China, India and others have resisted efforts at the U.N. climate conference to begin early talks in which they and other poor but fast-developing nations might be pressured to accept mandatory cutbacks in emissions linked to global warming.
Environmentalists feared such disputes might delay negotiations so long that the world would be left without emissions caps after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.
"We are not seeing the bold leadership required. Further delay is totally irresponsible," said Catherine Pearce, of Friends of the Earth International.
But European Union officials said a 2008 target for the Kyoto review -- a process that would assess the latest science and the size of necessary cutbacks -- should ensure no gap would open up at 2012.
If it's done by 2008, "we're well on our way to a new climate-change regime," said Barbara Helfferich, an EU spokeswoman.
The 1997 Kyoto pact obliges 35 industrial nations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The United States rejects that accord, with President Bush contending it would damage the U.S. economy and should have given poorer countries obligations as well.
Developing countries are expected to resist considering emissions reductions until they at least see acceptance of mandatory caps by the United States -- a prospect some see as possible after Bush leaves office in 2009. Some Third World delegations had favored delaying the review until as late as 2011.
In a separate set of less-formal talks here, the Kyoto member countries have been exploring ways to bring the United States into a global emissions-reduction regime.
Scientists attribute at least some of the past century's 1-degree rise in global temperatures to the atmospheric accumulation of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, byproducts of power plants, automobiles and other fossil fuel-burning sources. Continued temperature rises could seriously disrupt the climate, they say.
Too long a delay in the Kyoto review would likely leave a gap between Kyoto's reductions and a new series of cutbacks, presenting "a real danger of the collapse of the carbon market," said Hans Velorme, a Dutch spokesman for the environmentalist Climate Action Network.
The multibillion-dollar carbon market has evolved within the European Union. In imposing quotas on emissions from power plants and other energy-intensive industries, the EU established a trading system whereby companies that don't use their full emissions allowances can sell credits to others that need them.
A similar market has developed in emission-reduction projects in the developing world, not obligated to cut emissions under Kyoto, but able to sell such credits to countries that are.
Speaking with reporters, Kenyan environmentalist Sharon Looremetta dismissed the Nairobi meeting as a failure. "Most major issues have been shelved until next year," she said.
Her nomadic Maasai people have already been stricken by cattle-killing drought attributable to climate change, Looremetta said, but the countries emitting global-warming gases are doing too little to help.
"We don't drive 4x4 cars, we don't go on vacation by airplane, but we do suffer from climate change," she said.