Kyoto Climate Talks Live On Under New Proposal

Posted on 12 April 2001
Amsterdam, Netherlands - New proposals for governments to break the current deadlock in international talks on global warming provide some basis for hope, despite signs of a pandering to the Bush administration and a weakening of the target of the Kyoto Protocol, said WWF, the conservation organization today.

The proposals by Jan Pronk, the President of the UN climate negotiations, are a new attempt to bring parties together with a plan similar to proposals that were circulating behind the scenes when negotiating time ran out at last November's climate summit, in The Hague.

"The new proposal won't be enough to halt global warming," said Jennifer Morgan, Director of WWF's Climate Change Campaign. "But in the current circumstances it might just be enough to get the engine into gear so that the Kyoto Protocol will be finalized in July. This, and entry into force of the Protocol by 2002, will ensure that governments and business can move beyond paralysis and slowly start tackling global warming in the coming decades."

Most contentious in The Hague was the issue of "sinks" - counting on agriculture and forests to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. According to WWF's calculations, the effect of including sinks under the new proposal would convert the Kyoto target of a 5.2 per cent reduction in industrialised nations' carbon emissions into the need for an effective 2.7 per cent cut in the 1990 level of emissions by 2012.

The United States, Canada, Australia and Japan want to exploit sinks to avoid having to reduce carbon emissions from cars and power plants. The US would be the main beneficiary from sinks provisions in Pronk's new plan, accumulating more than half of the sinks credits available to industrialised nations. The US would then need to achieve a 2.8 per cent reduction in emissions instead of its current commitment of a 7 per cent cut.

Australia, Russia and Canada would also receive more generous pollution allowances, though Japan would likely be disappointed by the sinks proposals. Final sinks allowances could be slightly higher, as the plan permits credit for sinks in developing countries. The overall amount a country can count, however, would be capped at a fixed amount.

Representatives of 41 governments will meet Pronk for informal consultations at New York's Waldorf Astoria on 20 and 21 April.

WWF wants governments to agree on a means for preventing countries from claiming sinks credits for activities they would have undertaken anyway, and adopt environmental standards ensuring that perverse incentives for cutting native forests in industrialised nations are completely off the table.

With afforestation and reforestation still included under the Clean Development Mechanism, WWF also remains concerned about there being dangerous incentives to set up large new forest plantations in developing nations at the expense of protecting natural forests.

Absent from Pronk's proposals is a "cap" on the use of Kyoto's so-called "flexible mechanisms" of emissions trading, joint implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism. This has been a central plank of the European Union's stance that domestic action should take priority over buying and selling emissions and to emission reduction projects abroad.

WWF's concern is that, given the inflated pollution targets that countries such as Russia have allotted themselves, the unlimited use of emissions trading would be a way for countries to mask increases in real emissions behind paper transactions.

"The big question, when the dust settles, is still going to be whether what is not included in the final plan will end up sinking the agreement," said Jennifer Morgan. "In the short-term, it will be encouraging to see governments willing to move ahead without waiting for the United States."

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For more information:
Andrew Kerr, Public Affairs Manager, WWF Climate Change Campaign. Tel: +31 6 5161 9462 (mobile)