This article originally appeared in
Volume 30 Number 11
Wednesday, May 30, 2007 Page 434
Proposal for Kyoto 'Voluntary Commitments'
Sparks Debate on Role of Developing States
BONN, Germany--Chances for developing countries to voluntarily take on greenhouse gas emissions targets under the Kyoto
Protocol are improving because of negotiations sponsored by Russia, participants at U.N. climate change talks told BNA.
The "voluntary commitments" proposal was one of the main topics of informal conversation at the May 7-18 SB-26 negotiations in
Bonn, which were officially titled the 26th Session of the Subsidiary Bodies for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and for
Implementation (SBI) of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
No concrete decision was made at the meeting, but delegates said the topic would be on the agenda for the upcoming 13th
Conference of the Parties (COP-13) to the UNFCCC in Bali.
The subject of voluntary commitments is considered important because the framework developed for countries to choose to take on
greenhouse gas reduction commitments could serve to pave the way for the expansion of the list of countries that currently make up
Kyoto's Annex I. Under the current rules, Annex I countries are the only nations required to meet emissions targets.
Proposal Introduced in 2005
First introduced at the COP-11 meetings in Montreal in 2005, the topic is only this year gaining traction. It is one of a handful of issues
discussed at the Bonn talks that were not directly related to plans to start negotiations about the architecture of a post-2012
framework, to succeed current Kyoto commitments that expire in 2012.
Under the current rules, the process for such countries to take on voluntary commitments is long and difficult, requiring a series of
proposals and counterproposals regarding domestic action that in the end must be approved by 75 percent of the parties to the
Since the last time new countries were allowed to accept binding targets--in 1999, when several small European countries such as
Monaco and Liechtenstein were added, along with Czech Republic and Slovakia, created from former Annex I country
Czechoslovakia--two more countries have tried unsuccessfully to join the club: Kazakhstan and Belarus.
A delegate from Belarus declined to comment on the subject when contacted by BNA, and Kazakhstan did not respond to interview
requests. But sources familiar with the issue say both countries are motivated to take on commitments because they would likely find
a market for emissions reductions credits based on the changes in their Soviet-era economies since the protocol's 1990 base year.
Fears Over Market Impact, Precedent
However, both applicants have run into opposition from countries that reportedly oppose having extra credits on a market that has
already had unstable prices.
In the case of Kazakhstan, further opposition has come from the G-77 and China--developing countries that according to delegates
believe that inclusion of Kazakhstan might set a precedent to force them to accept binding emissions targets before they are ready to
"The word 'commitment' scares countries," former UNFCCC executive secretary Michael Zammit Cutajar, who chaired a work group
on the subject in Bonn, told BNA. "If it could somehow be assured that Kazakhstan and Belarus could take on the targets they want
and then the discussion stopped there, I doubt there would be so much controversy. But this has somehow morphed into something
that is not only about Kazakhstan and Belarus but about the entire G-77 and that's where the problem lies."
The Russian proposal seeks to allow countries not required to take on targets to nonetheless "contribute to the objective of the
convention" by reducing emissions.
"Everyone agrees this is the end goal," a Russian delegate in Bonn told BNA, asking not to be further identified. "Our question is, why
can't we just make it easier for countries to opt in?"
In a workshop held on the subject, Russia proposed a two-track approach in which countries seeking to adopt commitments would
either be on a "Kyoto Track" or a "Convention Track."
With the Kyoto Track, procedures for countries to join the Annex I group would be simplified. The Convention Track, meanwhile, would
simply offer support--perhaps technological or financial, one delegate familiar with the talks said--to developing countries eager to
take on commitments.
The workshop ended with an agreement to take up the discussion at a later date, most likely in Bali this winter.
Environmental Advocates Supportive
While national delegations were split over the merits of the Russian proposals on voluntary commitments, the environmental
umbrella organization Climate Action Network said most of its members saw the Russian initiative in a positive light.
"Of course, we'd all like binding targets for as many countries as possible, but what the Russians are proposing does not preclude
binding targets later on," Pat Finnegan, director of the Irish environmental lobby group GRIAN, said. "The other reason to pay attention
to this is that one lesson we've learned is not to ignore the Russians. In the past they've caused problems when they don't like the
way things work out."
Some delegates in Bonn had hoped the proposal could go beyond the simple inclusion of smallish industrialized states like
Kazakhstan and Belarus to opening the door to Kyoto skeptic countries--such as the United States--to eventually sign on to some
commitments, though most cautioned that was not the intent of the proposals.
"It is obvious that anything with the word 'voluntary' in the name will not force any countries to participate in it, but the fact that this exists
might eventually provide the framework that would allow countries that have opted out until now to eventually opt in for some kind of
target," one Bonn delegate from a European Union member state told BNA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
By Eric J. Lyman
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