High anxiety

  • 30/12/1997

High anxiety the Kyoto meeting ended in high drama with environmen-talists across the world on tenterhooks. The conference went on through the night of December 10, its last day, trying to resolve the major disagreements between different parties. Ultimately, the conference had to cobble together an agreement in time to allow participants to rush to the airport. It was a great way to deal with what is likely to be the greatest threat to humanity.

The first week of the conference was spent on unending squabbling. Eight meetings of the Ad hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate had failed to produce an agreed text for the Kyoto conference. Nor did the first week in Kyoto.With a full week of negotiations over (December 1-7, 1997), the battery of journalists and ngos present in Kyoto was beginning to wonder on December 8, the first day of the second week, whether there would be any Kyoto protocol at all to bind industrialised countries to strong targets for reducing co2 emissions. Everybody was, therefore, keenly looking forward to us vice-president Al Gore"s presence at the high-level ministerial segment on December 8. Outside, the sky was overcast and occasional showers had brought out umbrellas by the thousands. But inside the conference hall the temperature was high.

The day opened with the Japanese hosts presenting a carefully selected group of senior world politicians to resolve the impasse threatening the conference - one between developed and developing countries, and another between the us and the eu .

Softening the South
Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto was first off the block with an appeal to developing countries to join the effort to stop global warming. Hashimoto pointed out that energy efficiency measures had actually helped the Japanese economy in the past. It was a broad hint for developing countries do so now.

Next came the president of Costa Rica, Jose Maria Figueres Olsen, whose country had more than a year ago become the first to agree to a joint implementation project with the us . He argued that developing countries should do their part to join industrialised countries in dealing with global warming. He gave the example of the mechanism that had been developed jointly by Costa Rica and the us, called certified tradable offsets. Under this scheme, developing countries could take measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions or to remove carbon from the atmosphere (say, by under-taking afforestation), get the amount of carbon thus reduced or removed certified by an international body, and then trade it with an industrialised country that is finding it difficult to meet its own commitments.

Next came the president of the environmentally-battered Pacific island state, Nauru, who was expected to make a strong emotional appeal to the world community to stop global warming. And President Kinza Clodumar did precisely that. The "20th century has not been gentle" to his country, he told a spellbound audience. "First we lost our land; 80 per cent of my country has been destroyed by phosphate mining, initia-ted by colonial powers. Although restitution has been paid, in place of the green rainforest there are now grey tombstones of fossilised coral that remain after the phosphate was removed. My people have been confined to the narrow coastal fringe that separates this wasteland from our mother, the sea," said Clodumar.

"And now," he added, "we face a new threat. The emission of greenhouse gases in distant lands is warming the Earth and causing the sea level to rise. The coastal fringe where my people live is but two metres above the sea surface. We are trapped, a wasteland at our back, and to our front, a terrifying, rising flood of biblical proportions." Clodumar concluded: "Island countries are the microcosm of which all other countries are the macrocosm. Unchecked climate change promises not only our destruction, but pestilence, disease and famine everywhere for all living things."

With the stage set for softening the "intransigent" developing countries, Gore took the floor to address himself to the other impasse - the one between the industrialised countries themselves, that is, between the eu , which was arguing for a 15 per cent cut over 1990 levels by 2010 and the us , the world"s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, promising only to come down to 1990 levels by 2010. Having had an early morning telephone conversation with President Clinton, Gore departed from his prepared speech to instruct the us delegation to be "flexible".

"I am instructing our delegation to show increased negotiating flexibility if a comprehensive plan can be put in place, one with realistic targets and timetables, market mechanisms, and the meaningful participation of key developing countries," said Gore. He also told the delegations present that President Clinton and he had been burning the phone line over the weekend speaking to heads of governments across the developing world - in particular Brazil, Argentina, Tanzania and the Philippines - and hoped that they had since heard from their national capitals.

The stage was thus set for closed door compromises to take place over the next three days before the delegates departed from Kyoto, hopefully with some piece of paper in hand.

Strong reactions
Gore"s remarks elicited strong reactions. ngos fought amongst themselves with us ngos defending Gore, afraid to damage his reputation and chances of his becoming the next us president, and European ngos arguing that he had little to offer. The strongest reaction came from the group of 14 us senators who had descended on Kyoto to keep an hour-to-hour watch on the conference. "The vice-president missed a golden opportunity today to make it clear that the Clinton-Gore administration will not sign any treaty that does not include China, India, Mexico, Brazil and every other country in the world," Senator Jim Sensenbrenner, head of the delegation, told the press. "Unless these countries are included, the Clinton-Gore administration will have no excuse to ask people in the us to pay higher energy costs for this lopsided and unfair treaty."

But though the senators chanted "meaningful participation from key developing countries" like a mantra at every possible opportunity to make a public statement, what they exactly expected was never made clear. Sensenbrenner said it meant a treaty that was "fair to the United States."

But Gore got the effect he wanted on the negotiating process. Even before he had arrived on the scene, countries had already begun to soften their positions. Over the weekend, the eu had already climbed down from its demand for a 15 per cent cut by all industrialised countries to accept the principle of "differentiation" - an approach which would allow each nation to come up with its own emission reduction plan instead of adopting a "flat-rate" across-the-board target. But the eu still had a proviso. "Our view is that any differentiation should guarantee that at least major economies ( usa , Japan, and the eu ) should take up comparable commitments," said the eu representative from Luxembourg. The eu was worried over a proposal put in by conference chairperson Raul Estrada-Oyuela, which grouped Annexure i countries (industrialised countries) into five different groups, each with a different emissions reduction target. The eu spokesperson had openly pointed out that as Japan and the us are the major economic competitors of the eu , these three entities must have the same target.

Hot air bubbles
Earlier, in the previous week, the eu delegation had launched a scathing attack on us assistant secretary of state Melinda Kimble"s claim that "differentiation" would help resolve the wide differences in the industrialised country"s proposals. "It is flexibility, but in the wrong direction," Jorgen Henningsen, head of the eu negotiating team had said, by which he meant that every nation would head for the lowest level of commitment if differentiation was allowed.

The us delegation had retorted, however, by saying that the eu proposal already contained differentiation, since individual European countries within the Union would have different commitments, with countries like Germany cutting back much more to accommodate lower cuts from others and even increases by poorer eu countries like Portugal and Greece. "The eu bubble already allows the eu states differentiation within themselves," said Kimble, adding that there has to be a "level playing field".

In turn, the us showed great enthusiasm over an innovative but mischievous proposal put forward by Russia, to create a bubble for non- eu industrialised countries, and allow them to take benefit of its low emissions.With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent decline in the economy of Russia and Central and Eastern European nations ( cee ), their current emissions are 31 per cent below 1990 levels, according to the World Energy Council. Therefore, if Russia and usa were to form a bubble, both together could show a major reduction in their emissions below 1990 levels by 2010, even if usa increased its emissions.

The eu argued that such a bubble could not be allowed as it would constitute a major "loophole" in the Kyoto protocol and allow trading in what can be called "hot air". "What good would it do to the environment if usa were to take advantage of the economic collapse of Russia?" explained an ngo critic.

The issue of "meaningful participation from developing countries" had virtually exploded on December 5 when Darryl Dunn, head of the New Zealand delegation, made an intervention in the plenary session, asking that developing nations make a formal commitment to limit their greenhouse emissions starting 2015. "We will need some assurances for the future," said Dunn. China and other developing countries, strongly criticised the Japanese chairperson for even allowing the New Zealand proposal to be tabled, as participation of developing countries was not even part of the Berlin mandate.

Shadow boxing
The us , however, strongly backed this for a "Kyoto initiative". The eu also gave its support. Pierre Gramegna from Luxembourg, speaking on behalf of the eu , said a review process should be started, with a view to establishing further commitments for all parties.

Jurgen Maier, director of the German ngo Forum on Environment and Development, said that it had been rumoured that the introduction of the proposal by New Zealand was premeditated by the jusscannz group - Japan, Switzerland, Canada, Norway and New Zealand - which was why its introduction was allowed by the Japanese chairperson.

India was not pleased either. "We expect the conference to cast aside any proposals seeking to disturb the present balance of equities in the convention," said Indian minister for environment and forests Saifuddin Soz, speaking on the first day of the high-level ministerial segment. "India categorically rejects ideas suggesting any new commitments for developing countries. Any idea which seeks further to deprive us of our equitable entitlement to grow can never be allowed to take root," he added.

The head of the Chinese delegation, Chen Yaobang, mini-ster of forestry, was also strong in expressing disapproval. "All men are created equal, whether in rich or poor countries," Yaobang told the plenary. "Just like the people in developed countries, the people in poor developing countries, too, have the basic rights to survival and to pursue a better life," he said.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom pulled out what was supposed to be the trump card on the issue of developing country participation. In his address to the plenary, the uk deputy prime minister, John Prescott, referred to an economic declaration signed by Commonwealth Heads of States in Edinburgh in October this year. "(The Commonwealth Heads of Government) called on this conference to recognise that: after Kyoto, all countries will need to play their part, by pursuing policies that would result in significant reductions of greenhouse gases, if we are to solve a problem that affects us all," he said, quoting the declaration.

In fact, this seemingly innocuous line seemed to have been slyly inserted into a statement that covered a wide range of topics, and it would be fair to say that it was signed by heads of states like Inder Kumar Gujral, prime minister of India, who did not understand an iota of the politics involved in the issue.

Tropical air
Besides commitment to emissions control, developing countries were also under pressure to give in to the concept of "tropical air", yet another wonder coined at Kyoto. This referred to the trading of emissions that could take place between developed and developing countries. Though the issue was not slated for discussion in this meeting, since the experimental four-year phase of the Activities Implemented Jointly ( aij ) project, which began in 1995, was not yet over, it found strong support from members of the jusscannz group. Gore laid special emphasis on emissions trading and joint implementation in his statement.

It did not, however, get the wholehearted support of the eu , as it saw the proposal as another way for the us to wriggle out of commitments that they may agree to. In other words, usa could keep on increasing its emissions while borrowing emission reductions from other countries. The Luxembourg representative, concerned about this effort to pass the buck onto developing countries, pointed out: "In our view, trading can only be acceptable when supplemented with strong domestic action."

Members of the g-77 were themselves divided over the issue. It was vocally supported, as in the case of voluntary commitments, by Costa Rica and Argentina and Nauru, who stood behind the us in asking that it form an important part of the treaty. However, other g-77 countries, including India and China, resisted the idea.They saw it as a proposal which would create greenhouse gas reduction projects in developing countries and provide deve-loped nations a cheaper way to get away from their targets. It was not surprising, then, that the us jumped up in support of a proposal made by Brazil to set up a Clean Development Fund.

Brazil had initially proposed it as a compliance mechanism, whereby defaulting industrialised countries who did not meet their commitments would pay into a fund set up to facilitate technology transfer to developing countries. Though outwardly supported by the g -77, individual developing countries expressed reservations. A preparatory group of negotiators from the us , Japan, eu , Brazil, China and other developing countries was set up to draft the outline of the programme. The "Clean Development Mechanism" as it finally emerged, became a bank for carbon credits. Developing countries could deposit their reduced emissions in a bank and these reductions can then be purchased by industrial countries to meet their reduction targets.

The issue of sinks
The issue of "sinks" for carbon dioxide also became the centre of controversy as usa , Australia and New Zealand pushed for the inclusion of landuse changes and forestry in the calculation of commitments by countries. This meant that if a country put out a lot of carbon dioxide through its automobiles, it could reduce its emissions by the amount of carbon fixed in trees through afforestation. The eu and ngos opposed this proposal, saying that methods to measure the exact amount of gases that were "fixed" by sinks were suspect. They argued that including sinks would make it easy for these countries to make their commitments.

Thus, at the end of first day of the last week, the only progress that had been made lay in the vague promise of "flexibility" from the us. Most of the contentious issues remained unresolved.

The next day began with a series of negotiations held behind closed doors, even as the us delegation offered a package of "real reductions" in the 2008-2012 timeframe, covering six greenhouse gases, with "flexible market mechanisms" and "meaningful participation of key developing countries". And then, as if the us had been pushing rather than impeding matters, assistant secretary of state Stuart Eizenstat told a press conference, "Time is short, so we"re looking for flexibility from others." Unfortunately, the eu was willing to take on only three gases, and "meaningful participation" was still not forthcoming.

Soon it became clear that the us had proposed an "umbrella approach", in other words, a bubble consisting of usa and Russia. jusscannz and Russia had apparently come to an agreement. A rumour circulated that the us had agreed to buy 800 million tonnes of carbon credits from Russia. The proposal drew heat from the eu. While thousands of journa-lists and ngos waited with bated breath, conference chairperson Estrada-Oyuela"s 3 pm deadline for presenting a chairperson"s draft passed. Late in the evening, Estrada-Oyuela presented a draft agreement suggesting a commitment of 5 per cent reduction by industrialised countries in the 2006-2010 timeframe. Negotiators immediately huddled into different rooms with copies of Estrada-Oyuela"s draft. For a second time in the history of global warming negotiations, the chairperson was trying to cobble together an agreement at the last minute. The same had happened when the fccc was finalised in 1992.

In a closed door meeting, g-77 chairperson Mark Mwadosya of Tanzania appealed to countries to enable him to present a unanimous decision when Estrada-Oyuela reconvened all the nations. As he rushed through the 27 articles of Estrada-Oyuela"s draft, it was apparent that the lack of time was severely affecting the decisions being taken. The issue of sinks was bypassed due to lack of time. Similarly, the issue of industrialised country commitments was quickly glossed over. The speed breakers turned out to be the proposals for emissions trading and the Clean Development Mechanism ( cdm). Mwadosya let Article 10 - asking for voluntary commitments by developing countries - pass without comment, saying that he had Estrada-Oyuela"s assurance that the article would not get through.

Many delegates felt that the skeleton of the cdm should be retained as a draft decision, to be followed up in subsequent meetings. South Africa pointed out that the text was full of loopholes. There was no limit on how much emission reduction activities could be undertaken in other countries, and how much had to be done at home. India, too, opposed the mechanism. But many of the South American countries and small island nations favoured the proposal, and it was decided to let it pass. Meanwhile the eu and jusscannz held their own closed door meetings, which dragged into the wee hours.

The final countdown
The last day of the conference began with no solution in sight. With delegates still conferring behind closed doors, Japanese prime minister Hashimoto followed in Clinton"s footsteps to "burn phone lines". He called German chancellor Helmut Kohl, the prime ministers of Italy and Britain, Romano Prodi and Tony Blair, asking them to persuade the eu to show "flexibility". Clinton also received a call, and the White House reported that both leaders were "in sync" on issues at the meeting. Meanwhile, Prescott rang up other world leaders, including I K Gujral, reminding him of the Commonwealth Economic Declaration.

Rumours were rife and a lot of gossip did the rounds at the convention. A German ngo talked of a rift within the eu. The eu negotiations with the us were being led by a troika of the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the uk - the past, present and future heads of the eu. Prescott was reportedly pushing the eu to agree on low targets with the us. At one stage, the environment ministers of France and Germany, Dominique Voynet and Angela Merkel, respectively, accused him of lying in his attempt to broker a deal in the interests of the us. A un official, in the meantime, talked about a fax received by the delegation of the Philippines from Manila ordering it to go soft.

The entire day passed without any word from Estrada-Oyuela, and it looked more and more unlikely that anything would emerge. But as the cold dusk began to grip Kyoto there were fresh rumours that while the industrialised countries had come to an agreement on their commitments, India and China had refused to agree to the article on emissions trading.

The revised draft presented by the chairperson was finally distributed at 11 pm. This did not mention the figures for individual country commitments, it mentioned a 2008-2010 deadline, and covered six ghgs. Once again, as in the g-77 meeting, many Articles could not be taken up by the reconvened meeting of the world"s governments for lack of time. But developing countries did take a strong exception to the proviso allowing industrialised countries to trade emissions to meet their targets. India and China protested strongly against this. China pointed out that the issue was far too complex to be discussed briefly, and that it should be deleted. India agreed, saying that technically, developing countries had no emission rights to give away or trade unless they had a quota given to them. India used the occasion to bring up the issue of equitable emission rights and entitlements based on per capita emissions.

Several developing countries, from Africa, Asia and South America, jumped up in defence of India"s proposal to change the text. But the us expressed strong disagreement. It began by reminding the delegates that its signing of the treaty was conditional to this clause allowing emissions trading. The us delegate argued that trading was the most "cost effective" method of reducing emissions, and asked other countries not to deprive themselves of this historic moment. After India proposed that the line on trading be changed to include the phrase "relevant rules for equitable allocation of initial entitlements for emissions trading", the us delegate alleged this was throwing the discussion out of focus. He urged the chair to "move beyond these paragraphs" since there was consensus on the issue. Estrada-Oyuela, however, retorted by saying that he wished it was so, but he sensed no consensus.

As the debate progressed and more and more countries showed support for India"s proposal, Estrada-Oyuela began to look worried. He reminded the delegates that it had been apparent for a long time now that trading was a mechanism for flexibility that was required by the us. The protocol may have to be put off if the conference did not reach a consensus on it, since the us would not agree to commitments without the trading clause. He urged countries to reconsider the matter.

The small island states opposed the Indian proposal, arguing that it would "overload" the paragraph to include India"s amendment, and that the situation was comparable to fishing rights, where licences were issued with--out entitlements. The eu kept conspicuously quiet during the debate, despite rumours in the evening that it had told the g-77 that it would support their opposition to the trading clause.

After a 30-minute break to cool tempers, Estrada-Oyuela proposed that certain sections be deleted, but that the committee would adopt a decision to request the subsidiary bodies which assist the fccc to "give recommendations on the methodology, definition of relevant principles, modalities, and rules and guidelines for verification, reporting and accountability of emission trading," while an amendment to another clause would allow trading among the industrialised countries themselves. The amendment was accepted. Article 10 in Estrada-Oyuela"s text, which proposed voluntary commitments by developing nations, was also dropped.

On the morning of December 11, delegates finally adopted a treaty: Japan agreed to reduce emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels, the us 7 per cent, and the eu agreed on an 8 per cent reduction by 2008-2010. The industrialised countries together have to reduce their emissions by 5.2 per cent. And the Kyoto protocol came into existence, howsoever weak it may be to save the planet from the adverse effects of global warming.

Even as the numbers were being finalised, Japan began to express doubts about the workability of the figures. According to German activist Sascha Muller-Kraenner, at one point the Japanese delegation confessed that they had not had the time to analyse the figures which were being put forward, and hence did not really know if they could meet them. "In fact, we will not know if any of the commitments mean anything for years to come," said Muller-Kraenner. "So far, they are only on paper." In any case, who knows whether the Kyoto protocol will pass the us Congress. Without the participation of the us , the entire treaty would become meaningless.

(A detailed analysis on the lessons learnt in Kyoto will be carried in the next issue.).

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