Sustainable Development Commission Stumbles on Climate Change

NEW YORK, New York, May 14, 2007 (ENS) - Fundamental differences between nations on the nature and scope of the sustainable development agenda, especially on the issues of energy and climate change, led to the failure of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development to approve any outcome document Friday after two weeks of negotiations.

The Commission on Sustainable Development is a UN body that emerged from Agenda 21, the program of action for sustainable development adopted in June 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The Commission is tasked with encouraging international cooperation in the implementation of Agenda 21 at the local, national, regional and international levels.

But the 15th annual meeting of the Commission that ended at UN Headquarters on Friday demonstrated divisiveness, not cooperation.

Al-Attiyah

Chair of the 15th meeting of the Sustainable Development Commission Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah of Qatar tries to put an end to dissension with a "take it or leave it" text. The delegates left it. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
The Kyoto climate protocol proved to be a major stumbling block to agreement. The European Union stressed the urgent need for an agreement that continues the Kyoto system of legally binding greenhouse gas emissions cuts past 2012 when the current protocol expires.

Australia, Canada and the United States emphasized instead the processes to deal with greenhouse gas emissions under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that do not include legally binding emissions cuts.

Canada has signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol and is legally bound to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets, but the Conservative government of Stephen Harper has said Canada cannot meet its obligations, and Canada is now lining up with Australia and the United States, neither of which has ratified the protocol.

On Friday night, the Group of 77 and China, the United States, Canada and Mexico agreed to a last minute "take it or leave it" text offered by Commission Chair Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, Qatar's deputy prime minister and minister of energy and industry.

But the European Union and Switzerland rejected the chair's text, saying that it did not address the challenges, meet world expectations or add value.

Sigmar Gabriel, German Federal Minister for the Environment, representing the EU-Presidency, said, "The world has been waiting for the UN to take concrete steps to address issues such as poverty eradication through access to affordable and sustainable energy services, energy efficiency, renewable energies, climate change, air quality. The European Union has, therefore, worked tirelessly over the last two weeks to negotiate a meaningful agreement."

Gabriel said he "deeply regrets" that agreement was not possible.

The European Union strongly supported time-bound targets for renewable energy and the integration of energy policies into national planning by 2010.

Support for a review arrangement for energy issues within the Commission and an international agreement on energy efficiency was also high on the EU agenda.

delegates

The delegates were given 45 minutes to consult on the chair's text. Although it stretched into 90 minutes, still no agreement was reached. (Photo courtesy ENB)
But objections were raised by Australia, Canada, Japan, the United States and other developed countries to the review mechanism idea, so no agreement was reached.

The issue of nuclear power as a part of a sustainable energy mix was favored by Algeria, Argentina, Chile, Pakistan and others, but the EU and the Association of Small Island States were opposed, so no language was agreed on nuclear energy.

Gabriel said the EU considers these as essential elements on the way to achieving the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

"The challenges posed by climate change, energy security, and air pollution are now seen more clearly than five years ago. They require strengthened and more ambitious, international policy commitments. It is unfortunate that the CSD 15 was unable to deliver," said Stavros Dimas, European Commissioner for the Environment.

The failure of the Commission to agree on a way forward puts the upcoming international climate negotations in Bali in December on thin ice.

Several government delegates to the high-level portion of the Commission's meeting said that failure in Bali is not an option. But in view of the dissension over the past two weeks in New York, agreement in Bali appears farther away.