Climate Urgency Shapes High-Level Negotiations

NAIROBI, Kenya, November 16, 2006 (ENS) - More than 50 ministers and heads of delegation addressed the United Nations Climate Change Conference here today, most calling for immediate as well as long-term action to avert global warming.

European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said the meeting, which winds up Friday, has two key tasks.

"One is to strengthen the ability of these climate change agreements to respond to the needs of developing countries in Africa and elsewhere," Dimas said.

"The other is to make progress towards consensus on the shape of a future climate change regime. This must deliver the deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions needed to achieve the Convention’s ultimate objective," he said.

The two week gathering is the 12th Conference of the 189 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, and the second meeting of the 166 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

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Jan-Erik Enestam, Minister of the Environment, Finland, and Sigmar Gabriel, Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany, discussed a document during the evening minsterial session. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
The first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol extends from 2008 through 2012, and conference delegates are seeking to shape an agreement that will require deeper cuts in greenhouse gases beyond 2012.

The debate here is whether to set a longer second commitment period of up to 10 years or keep the present five year time frame.

Business groups want long-term stability, but environmentalists say shorter periods allow for voters to keep politicians accountable.

In meetings since November 6, delegates from around the world have finalized a five-year program of work on helping vulnerable developing countries deal with and adapt to the impacts of the warming planet.

Climate change is already in evidence in prolonged droughts, severe weather events, sea level rise, and changes in the behavior of migratory birds and animals.

Delegates have also agreed on the principles and modalities of the Adaptation Fund for developing countries. As the fund begins operating over the next several months it will support adaptation projects.

Clean technology projects in developing countries are being generated by the Clean Development Mechanism, CDM, of the Kyoto Protocol.

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Nelly Olin, (right) Minister of Ecology and Sustainable Development, France, held a press conference after signing a CDM agreement with Gabon, the first between France and a country in sub-Saharan Africa. (Photo courtesy ENB)
To reach their emission targets under the Kyoto Protocol, industrialized countries can build clean energy projects in countries without targets and thereby earn certified emission reductions.

Dimas said the success of the Clean Development Mechanism is due in part to demand for credits from European governments, as well as from companies through the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

Each EU member state established a national allocation plan for each trading period, deciding the total number of allowances to be created for the period and the distribution of these allowances to individual plants. The first trading period runs from 2005 to 2007, and thereafter the EU foresees five year trading periods.

The EU Emissions Trading Scheme covers only carbon dioxide emissions, leaving aside the other five potent greenhouse gases covered under the Kyoto Protocol, but the European Commission is working on a plan to include the other emissions in the near future.

The United States and Australia are the only industrialized countries that have rejected the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that limiting greenhouse gas emissions could harm their economies when developing nations had no such limits.

The chief U.S. climate negotiator said at the conference that the Bush administration is watching to see how such carbon markets for greenhouse gas emissions trading function elsewhere.

"We welcome the pursuit of these different strategies and we want to see how they evolve," U.S. Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky told the AP.

Some U.S. states, such as California, are developing similar cap-and-trade programs.

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Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky leads the U.S. delegation. (Photo courtesy ENB)
"We look forward to an innovative discussion on the most effective approaches," Dobriansky said, just nine days after a national election that gave Democrats control of Congress, sweeping the Republicans aligned with President George W. Bush from power.

Three U.S. senators, all Democrats who are incoming committee chairs, today called on President Bush to commit to working with the new Congress to pass meaningful climate change legislation in 2007.

In a letter to the President distributed to journalists at the conference, Barbara Boxer of California, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut said they are not satisfied with the level of U.S. participation in international negotiations or reduction of its greenhouse gas emissions.

The senators said scientists are warning that the world might be reaching a "tipping point" beyond which it will be extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible, to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

Business is willing to participate in reducing emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and five others covered under the Kyoto Protocol, but the spokesman for a coalition of 190 of the world's largest companies told ministers at the conference today that business needs a stable climate regime.

Governments must quickly establish the policies that will allow business to invest more in a clean energy future, said Björn Stigson, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

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Björn Stigson is president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. (Photo courtesy ENB)
Stigson said, "Governments need to send a clear signal that the carbon markets will continue beyond 2012. Otherwise, carbon markets will not and cannot work to meet the climate protection goals."

In a publication released today at the conference, The World Business Council suggests establishing by 2010 a quantifiable, 50 year goal for the management of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Council says it would like to see the progressive inclusion of all countries - both developing and developed - in the Kyoto Protocol or its extension.

The Council says it is interested in, "Encouraging the development and deployment of leading-edge technologies through partnerships and incentives and an approach to mitigate long-term market risk and deliver secure benefits for large-scale, low-carbon, new technology projects."