Kyoto Protocol Takes Effect With Celebrations, Warnings

KYOTO, Japan, February 17, 2005 (ENS) - The Kyoto treaty to combat global warming entered into force on Wednesday with celebrations in 40 countries highlighted by a commemorative symposium and global video conference in the ancient Japanese capital city where the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in 1997. But the celebratory mood was tempered by stern warnings such as that from UN Environment chief Klaus Toepfer, who said recent scientific reports "make terrifying reading, a vision of a planet spinning out of control."

In a video message to the Kyoto crowd UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged humanity to save the planet by adding to the limits on greenhouse gases set by the protocol. "Let us celebrate today, but let us not be complacent," Annan said.

“I call on the world community to be bold, to adhere to the Kyoto Protocol, and to act quickly in taking the next steps. There is no time to lose,” he warned. “By itself, the Protocol will not save humanity from the dangers of climate change."

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German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin delivers his statement from Bonn via video conference to Japanese Environment Minister Yuriko Koike in Kyoto. (Photo courtesy UNFCCC)
Under the Kyoto Protocol to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 35 industrialized countries must reduce their combined emissions of six greenhouse gases to below 1990 levels during the five year period from 2008 to 2012. So far 140 countries plus the European Union have ratified the accord.

The European Union must cut these emissions by eight percent and Japan by six percent. For many countries, achieving the Kyoto targets will be a major change that will require new policies and new approaches.

But however difficult, Kyoto proponents believe action to combat global warming must be taken immediately. UNFCCC Executive Secretary Joke Waller-Hunter, in her keynote address, pointed to indications of climate change just in the past seven years. “Changes to polar ice, glaciers and rainfall regimes have already occurred,” she said. “We see an increasing number of extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods and hurricanes."

"While more research is needed," said Waller-Hunter, "these alarming signals confirmed by the scientific community keep climate change high on the political and business agendas in many countries.”

In a video message, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Klaus Toepfer told the symposium that he sees global warming as the "spectre at the feast" that will undermine humanity's work towards mitigating poverty and meeting the UN's Millenium Development Goals.

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The surface temperature of the Earth is rising, scientists agree. (Photo courtesy NASA)
In September, at a session of the UN General Assembly, nations will review progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Toepfer said. These cover the main challenges facing the world from fighting poverty and boosting the level of people with access to clean and sufficient drinking water to delivering universal primary education and reducing the spread of infectious diseases.

A report by a special Task Force on the MDGs, established at the request of the Secretary-General under the chair of Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, makes it clear that the environment is a key cornerstone for delivering all of the Goals, said Toepfer.

"This simple, stark, fact will be a key focus" when over 100 environment ministers meet next week in Nairobi for the UNEP Governing Council to plan and agree the organization’s future activities, he said.

"The Task Force’s findings, in their report Environment and Human Well-Being, also underline that climate change is the specter at the feast, capable of undermining our attempts to deliver a healthier, fairer and more resilient world," Toepfer said.

After President George W. Bush withdrew U.S. support for the protocol in 2001, Russian ratification became vital for it to enter into force since 55 Parties to the UNFCCC must ratify it, including the developed countries whose combined 1990 emissions of carbon dioxide exceed 55 percent of that group’s total. Russia, with 17 percent, took the official step in November 2004, pushing the amount beyond the threshold and setting the clock ticking for Wednesday’s entry into force.

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Years of drought in the Horn of Africa have dried up rivers like this one in Eritrea. (Photo by Brenda Barton courtesy WFP)
Toepfer said he differs with those who claim that the protocol "is more dead than alive" without the United States, which accounts for about 24 per cent of global fossil fuel-related carbon dioxide emissions, about twice those of China, the world’s second largest emitter, according to figures from the U.S. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center.

“While the government of the United States has decided against the Kyoto treaty," Toepfer said, "many individual states in America are adopting or planning to adopt greenhouse gas reductions in line with the spirit of the protocol."

“Many businesses there are also active and keen to join the new emission trading schemes and markets opening up. The government itself is also promoting higher energy efficiency and alternatives like hydrogen and solar,” he added.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the scientific body which advises governments and which was established by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization, concluded a few years ago that global temperatures may rise by as much as 5.8 degrees Celsius by 2100 without action.

Toepfer took note of a report published a few weeks ago in the journal "Nature," in which researchers concluded that temperatures could rise even higher as soon as the middle of the century.

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Inside a glacial meltwater channel on Canada's Bow Glacier. The world's glaciers are melting rapidly, scientists say. (Photo by Chris Hopkinson courtesy SOCC)
"Another report," he said, "again launched a few weeks ago by the International Climate Change Task Force which is an alliance of three think-tanks based in America, Australia and the United Kingdom, argue that even a two degree Centigrade rise could take the planet past a point of no return."

In his message to the symposium, Anwarul Chowdhury, UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, pointed out the adverse effects that climate change and sea level rise present to the sustainable development of small island developing states.

“Never before has the negative impact of climate change been more evident than the recent devastating weather conditions resulting in widespread hurricanes, cyclones, tropical storms, tidal waves, tsunamis in various parts of the world, particularly affecting small island developing states," Chowdhury said. "These small countries are the most vulnerable to global climate change."

“This day will be remembered as the day when the world went to work on emission reductions as well as the start of a new era in international collaboration for the sake of our planet and its people. It also launches the most ambitious attempt to harness economic forces to tackle the most dramatic global environmental challenge,” said IUCN President Valli Moosa, a former South African environment minister.

In a video statement transmitted to Kyoto European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said, “It is imperative that we do all we can to save our planet for future generations, and indeed make it safer for us all today. The Kyoto Protocol is a first but crucial step in doing so. The Protocol’s entry into force today sends a strong signal to business that we need new climate-friendly technologies.”

European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas added, “Combating climate change is not an option, it is a necessity. Kyoto is only a first step - the EU is ready to discuss further-reaching measures for the post-2012 period and we urge the rest of the international community to engage in this discussion at the earliest opportunity.”

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View to Klettwitz, eastern Germany, 80 miles south of Berlin, One of Europe's best areas for wind power plants. (Photo courtesy ESA)
German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin, of the Green Party, said via video statement, "We must prevent the global temperature from increasing by more than two degrees. More than two degrees Celsuis is too much."

"This can only be achieved if we increase the use of renewable energies, save energy and improve energy efficiency in our houses, cars and power stations. And we must do this throughout the world, in both industrialized and developing countries."

We need new targets," Tritten said, "We propose that by 2020, Europe should save 30 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990. Germany is prepared to make a 40 percent reduction."

Via video message Canadian Environment Minister Stephane Dion joined the group in Kyoto to announce that Canada will host the first Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Montreal in conjunction with the 11th session of the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention.

The Convention’s Bureau accepted the offer of the government of Canada Wednesday at a meeting in Kyoto. The Montreal Climate Conference will take place from November 28 to December 9, 2005 at the Palais des Congrès de Montréal.

"Now that Kyoto is in force," said Dion, "we must ensure that it is implemented in the period from 2008 to 2012." The Canadian environment minister is already thinking ahead to what steps must be taken after the first Kyoto commitment period is over at the end of 2012.

"When humanity emerges from the 21st century," Dion said, "it will need to have gained control of its impact on the climate. The Montreal Climate Conference will be a turning point: it must enable us to create on a sound footing the international system that will apply after 2012."

"We must also give thought to our long-term objectives," said Dion, "in order to ensure that the whole of humanity contributes to the effort while developing a thriving economy for everyone, on all the continents, but an economy that is clean and does not affect the climate."