Volume 24 Number 15
Wednesday, July 18, 2001 Page 621
Odds of Kyoto Breakthrough
Continue to Ebb, Diplomats Say
ROME--Expectations for the latest round of climate change talks in Bonn have been ratcheted downward as chances that the meetings will yield an
implementation agreement on the Kyoto Protocol erode.
And while hopes for significant progress in Bonn have not been abandoned, many insiders say the next question on the agenda has already become
what will happen after Bonn and whether the Kyoto Protocol can even survive as it stands.
According to several sources close to the talks, the most likely scenario is that the Bonn summit will only lay some groundwork for future climate
change meetings, perhaps including what one European diplomat called a "face-saving" document.
If Bonn fails to ratify the Kyoto Protocol as expected, then the issue will officially be tabled until the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties,
the seventh, in Marrakech, Morocco, which will take place in late October and early November.
Some experts on the issue already are wondering if the Kyoto agreement is too flawed and too damaged ever to be ratified.
"So many factors have changed since Kyoto was drawn up [in 1997], and there is so much stigma attached to the protocol now that in many ways
negotiators are not starting from square one," a former Italian negotiator, who participated in early talks on the treaty and who spoke on the condition
of anonymity, said in an interview. "In many ways, we have to advance significantly just to get to square one."
Son of Kyoto?
A former high-level climate change negotiator from the United States, who also asked not to be named, agreed.
"The solution will likely end up being something like a 'Son of Kyoto,' something that advocates can say is still Kyoto and which opponents can say
is no longer Kyoto," the former official said. "But that may be years away."
If that happens, it will be an inauspicious end for the treaty, which was launched with great fanfare four years ago in Japan.
Though the agreement was always dogged by some uncertainties, things did not start to unravel on a large scale until the Sixth Conference of the
Parties (COP-6) meeting in The Hague. There, the rift between the European Union and the United States and its allies widened over disagreements
on the extent to which so-called flexible mechanisms such as carbon sinks and emissions trading can be used to achieve Kyoto's targets.
Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk, who chaired the COP-6 talks, suspended the November 2000 meetings instead of closing them. The
meetings scheduled for July 16-27 in Bonn are the continuation of COP-6 talks and were expected to finish the job started in The Hague.
Instead, the two sides grew even further apart in March after newly elected U.S. President George W. Bush said in no uncertain terms that
Washington could not support the Kyoto agreement as it stood.
To enter into force, the Kyoto Protocol requires ratification from 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of the world's greenhouse gas
emissions. Because the United States and key allies like Australia, Canada, and Japan represent such a large percentage of world GHG emissions,
they hold a de facto veto over the treaty.
One reason the agreement has met so much resistance is because of the difficulty of reaching some of its targets. The protocol calls for worldwide
emissions to be reduced by 5.2 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2012, but some individual countries have more ambitious targets (INER
Reference File 1, 21:3951)..
Kyoto says that the United States, for example, must reduce its emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels. But a period of rapid growth over the last
11 years means that emissions are now around 22 percent higher than they were in 1990, according to some estimates.
To reach the 7 percent reduction target laid out in the 1997 Kyoto pact, the United States now would have to slash GHG emissions by 29 percent
from current levels, a near impossibility.
Meanwhile, a decade of economic woes in Russia means its greenhouse gas emissions are so low that they could increase by one-fourth and still fall
short of 1990 levels. In addition, other economies--most notably those of poorer developing countries like China and India--are excluded from Kyoto
"There is a perception that the targets hit some countries more than other, which is true," Greenpeace climate control expert Bill Hare told BNA.
"But it's important to remember that the countries with the toughest goals are the ones that have enjoyed the fastest economic growth. In a large part,
the emissions are a by-product of the growth."
EU Role Marginalized
Among the world's richest economies, the EU has been the Kyoto Protocol's most loyal supporter--a position that some say has ironically lessened
its role in the process.
Attention has focused instead on efforts to pull the United States back into the fold by Japan, for example, and the possibility of convincing enough
fence sitters to side with the agreement so that it can be passed even without U.S. approval.
"In a way, the European role has been marginalized, like that of the core constituency that a politician knows he can count on in a close race," Trevor
Catalano, a multilateral policy expert with RCM, a Rome think tank, said in an interview. "They aren't the ones who get promised what they want,
since their actions are not in doubt."
The math makes it clear: European support alone will never be enough to ratify the Kyoto accord.
If the process indeed fails and the meetings in Marrakech fail to bear fruit, the consensus is that the treaty may need to be scrapped or at least
revamped into a "Son of Kyoto" document. If that happens, Europe's role is likely to gain importance.
"In any kind of Kyoto Part 2, Europe will have an enormous influence as the only major economy that supported the original accord unwaveringly,"
Catalano said. "The EU will be forced to concede certain points, of course, but the organizers will know that without Europe the new treaty would
never even be considered seriously."
Process Being Rushed
One change that will lessen Europe's influence if Kyoto cannot be ratified in Bonn is that Holland's Pronk will no longer be the meetings' chair.
Pronk will run the meetings in Bonn because they are a continuation of the talks he chaired in The Hague.
Although negotiators close to the talks universally praised Pronk's passion and work ethic--officials in The Hague opened their meetings on July 16
by poring over a 190-page compromise paper Pronk produced, the sixth official draft of the document released since November--some say privately
that his organization style may have been one of the reasons that the talks in The Hague fell short of ratifying the Kyoto agreement.
"In The Hague, we were probably half a day away from reaching an agreement, and yet we all but wasted two or three days in the middle," one
former European official, who participated in the November climate change talks, told BNA. "In retrospect, the meetings in The Hague were the best
last chance for an approval. The failure there may cost the process a great deal of time."
That is a point of view echoed by many other officials after the talks in The Hague concluded.
In Marrakech, the still-unnamed chair will be a local. Morocco is among the 80 countries that have signed the Kyoto agreement, but, like the other 79,
it is not among the world's 25 largest polluters.
Though the ratification may help prove the country's environmental credentials, many say its lack of economic clout may make passage at the talks it
will host a long shot, no matter what happens in Bonn.
"This process is beyond being rushed through," the former U.S. official said. "The sides are too far apart, and there is no champion who can convince
countries to take such a big step. Perhaps [the current process] has to exhaust itself with these talks [in Bonn] and the next [in Marrakech] before
everyone will decide they need to start again to make something the different sides will all accept."
By Eric J. Lyman
Eric J. Lyman is BNA's special correspondent in Rome and has covered negotiations related to the Kyoto Protocol over the last year in a number of
locations in Europe.
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