Volume 27 Number 13
Wednesday, June 30, 2004 Page 531
At U.N. Climate Meeting, Officials Note
Shifting Agenda, New Focus on Adaptation
BONN, Germany--Officials at a U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agenda-setting meeting here indicated that
international efforts to address climate change are beginning to focus more on adapting to climate changes that are increasingly seen as inevitable rather
than stemming emissions of greenhouse gases.
At the Twentieth Session of the Subsidiary Bodies to the UNFCCC, which concluded June 25, officials indicated that the next major meeting of the
UNFCCC will be the first to formally address the issue of adaptation to climate change. That meeting, the Tenth Conference of the Parties to the
UNFCCC (COP-10), will take place Dec. 6-17 in Buenos Aires.
In addition, COP-10 will be the first UNFCCC meeting to formally address airplane emissions, and will eliminate some formalities of previous
meetings in order to devote more time to substantive talks, U.N. officials and delegates from member countries told BNA. Also, COP-10 organizers
are not resting their hopes on getting the Kyoto Protocol into force.
Not Waiting on Russia
Previous COP meetings "made the mistake" of focusing efforts on putting the Kyoto Protocol into effect, according to Raul Estrada Oyuela,
Argentina's special representative for international environmental affairs. The treaty can only take effect if either Russia or the United States ratifies,
and Russia is seen as the more likely of the two to take the step.
Estrada told BNA that Argentina is still hopeful Russia will ratify, but that the country will not launch a diplomatic effort to persuade it to do so, as
did Italy, which hosted COP-9 in Milan last December.
In May, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country would "move rapidly" toward ratifying the protocol, though Russia has yet to give a time
frame for when that might happen (27 INER 447, 06/2/04 ).
"In Argentina, we will be pleased if Russia ratifies in time for the protocol to come into effect before the COP," Estrada said in an interview on the
sidelines of the Bonn meeting. "But the conference will cover important ground in any case."
Adaptation a Priority in Argentina
One topic that will be on the agenda this time that has not been formally addressed at previous COP meetings is how to help developing countries
adopt to climate change, a topic of particular concern to Argentina, Estrada said.
"As an emerging economy, Argentina is already feeling some of the effects of climate change," he said. "This is an issue effecting emerging economies
more than developed economies, and we believe it is important to push the issue forward at the meetings in Buenos Aires."
Though language referring to adaptation is included in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol the subject has not been widely discussed in the UNFCCC
framework, partly because it is primarily a local issue, and also because it is of more concern to developing countries rather than developed countries,
which were called on to take the first steps in the climate change treaty .
Adaptation Initiatives Limited
"On the first level, efforts to reduce emissions and slow global warming are international, but any plan for adaptation must be local," said UNFCCC
Executive Secretary Joke Waller-Hunter in a separate interview. "There's no way to write a treaty calling for universal action because it would never
So far, multilateral efforts on climate change adaptation have consisted largely of establishing funds to support adaptation projects in poor countries.
Two existing funds that could be used to this effect are the Fund for Less Developed Countries and the Special Climate Fund, though money in these
funds remains low, at around $15 million combined, Waller-Hunter said.
In addition, she said, there has been some discussion of taxes on certain transactions to fund adaptation projects; a program to establish an
early-warning system; and technology transfers to poor nations. But in the meantime, she said, countries should take steps to assess their specific
risks and to prioritize steps that should be taken to improve adaptation.
Agenda for COP-10
Argentina's Estrada also outlined the format for the Buenos Aires meeting, which he said will include some departures from previous Conferences of
the Parties to the UNFCCC.
For starters, COP-10 will dispense with the traditional plenary session where the heads of each of the 189 national delegations were given time to
address the conference. These speeches, which were regarded as the only way to allow each UNFCCC member and observer state to appear in the
official conference record, often dominated the first three days of conferences and resulted in many redundant declarations, according to Estrada.
In Buenos Aires, he said, the conference instead will convene four simultaneous panel discussions, topics for which were decided at the Subsidiary
Bodies meeting in Bonn (SB-20).
Four Panel Discussions
Two of the four topics were agreed upon with little debate: one will be titled "The Convention After Ten Years: Accomplishments and Future
Challenges," and another "Impacts of Climate Change, Adaptation Measures, and Sustainable Development."
The other two panel topics, however, were more contentious. A third panel will be titled "Technology and Climate Change." An earlier proposal had
called for the panel to be named "Energy and Climate Change," but was changed to accommodate several oil-producing countries that opposed
inclusion of the word "energy."
"No other sector is singled out among these panel topics," Mohammed al-Sabban, the head of the Saudi Arabian delegation at SB-20, told BNA.
The fourth panel will be titled "Mitigation and Climate Change: Approaches and Benefits." The original proposed title was "Investing in Climate
Change" and was intended to include corporations in the debate, Waller-Hunter told BNA.
Airplane Emissions to Be Discussed
In addition, the agenda for COP-10 also include a discussion on the possibility of monitoring aviation fuel use as a precursor to developing carbon
dioxide emissions policies in the future.
This item was pushed for by the delegation from Ireland, which holds the six-month rotating European Union presidency until July 1, over
opposition from the United States and Saudi Arabia.
"This is by far the biggest source of pollution that isn't yet counted under UNFCCC rules," Conor O'Raghallaigh, a member of the Irish delegation
and an official with Ireland's Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. "It was important to get it on the agenda."
Reporting Dispute Unresolved
The SB-20 meetings, however, failed to resolve a dispute over whether "non-Annex I" countries must report to the UNFCCC on progress related to
climate change issues. The Climate Change Convention names 36 developed countries as Annex I countries, for whom the treaty lays out certain
obligations from which non-Annex I countries are exempt.
Annex I countries have, however, floated an initiative that would require non-Annex I countries to report to the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties
at least once every three years. The "Group of 77" developing countries and China, however, oppose the initiative and proposed instead alternatives
that would make reporting voluntary. In the end, consensus was not reached and the issue will not be on the agenda for the Buenos Aires meeting.
"Reporting in itself isn't a major problem," Juan Mancebo of the delegation from the Dominican Republic told BNA. "But the aim of this idea is
really to add obligations for the developing countries to the agenda when the rich countries haven't been able to accomplish much yet."
Praise for Some U.S. States
Although the United States has ruled out the possibility of its ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and has yet to take any steps toward establishing a
national program that might be able to link up to Kyoto initiatives, Waller-Hunter said she was encouraged by efforts made to develop some regional
emissions trading schemes.
She said there were also positive signs that some U.S.-based corporations were showing interest in reducing emissions and using renewable energy
"In the United States, action has always come from the bottom up, and so the development of these kinds of initiatives on the state-level and the
corporate level might one day lead to action on the national level," she said.
Earlier this year, several states in the northeast United States outlined plans to develop state or regional carbon dioxide emissions trading schemes.
More information on the UNFCCC COP-10 meeting scheduled for December in Buenos Aires is available at http://unfccc.int/cop10/index.html on the
World Wide Web.
By Eric J. Lyman
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