Bonn Update - Two days into the Bonn talks and things are still looking bleak for the future of the Kyoto Protocol

July 19, 2001

Two days into the Bonn talks - with Ministers starting to arrive - things are still looking bleak for the future of the Kyoto Protocol.

In March this year, President Bush and the US administration reneged on the treaty. But the Kyoto Protocol could still come into force if ratified by at least 55 countries, together accounting for at least 55% of carbon dioxide emissions by industrialized countries (in 1990). If Japan and one other member of the so-called Umbrella Group (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway) refuses to ratify, the Protocol, it will be dead. Japan has therefore emerged as a key country in these talks. There is clear public support in the country for the Protocol (82% in a recent poll). But the Japanese Government under Prime Minister Koizumi has repeatedly refused to say whether Japan will ratify Kyoto if the US maintains its refusal to do so.

At yesterday's Press Conference, Japanese Environment Minister Kawaguchi said that Japan was seeking a large "free gift" towards its Kyoto target - which amounts to a 28% reduction in CO2 emissions from the "business as usual" scenario. Japan wants a limit of 3.7% towards this target from domestic sinks, excluding other non-domestic action under the CleanDevelopment Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation (JI), where it is opposing any limits at all. President of the COP talks Jan Pronk has suggested a 3% limit, including CDM and JI. At yesterday's negotiations over compliance, the Japanese delegation placed almost the whole text in brackets - meaning that Japan does not accept any of the current compliance proposals, suggesting that it wants Kyoto to be an entirely voluntary agreement!

In effect, the Japanese Government appears to be blackmailing the COP talks. If it gets what it wants over sinks and compliance, it may agree to ratify despite the US. If not, not.

Of course, this position merely opens the doors for other countries with objections to the Kyoto Protocol to behave in the same way. For example, Russia, Canada and Australia are demanding that nuclear power is included in the CDM. Australia is even arguing for a "workshop" on alternatives to the Kyoto Protocol before the COP 7 talks in Marrakesh.

Meanwhile, the European Union is in a state of some confusion about its negotiating position. Belgium, which currently holds the EU presidency, is actively seeking compromise with Umbrella Group countries. Germany and Austria are taking a more hard line position. There is really no reason for the EU to treat the Umbrella countries as a group: given the US and Australian positions the EU should be seeking individual negotiations with more progressive parties.

The UK will find it almost impossible to play its usual role as a "bridge" between the US and EU positions (or, more cynically, a Trojan Horse for US interests) given the US rejection of the Protocol. The UK Government has not even sorted out who is the lead Minister at the talks.

Following the UK General Election, Margaret Beckett took over from John Prescott as Environment Secretary. Prescott moved to the Cabinet Office, but kept some responsibility for climate talks. Both Ministers appear to be coming to Bonn; it is far from clear how they will work together.

The EU has (belatedly) begun bilateral talks with the G77 group of developing countries and with Japan. The EU should move towards the G77 in the finance section of the talks, on technology transfer and capacity building.

When NGO representatives met Mr Pronk, it became clear that there was barely any process in place for making progress in the four areas for the talks (Finance, LULUCF, Mechanisms, Compliance). Mr Pronk is on the defensive following widespread criticism of his conduct of the talks.

Commenting on the progress of the talks, Friends of the Earth Environment Campaigner Kate Hampton said:

"In Bonn, the world's Governments face a fundamental challenge. Does the world have political institutions capable of dealing with the terrible global threat of climate change? So far, the deeply depressing answer seems to be no. If this is indeed the case, it will have profound political consequences. What legitimacy will Governments have with their populations, if they cannot address one of the greatest dangers facing the planet? What respect will politicians be entitled to, if like George Bush they refuse to admit the crisis even exists?

Kyoto has strong public support all over the world. Ordinary people know that climate change threatens their homes, their jobs and in many cases their lives. If Kyoto is destroyed, those who are responsible will never be forgiven or forgotten."

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Ian Willmore
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