Monday, December 12, 2005

Dion: Montreal's Happy Man

So the UN Conference on Climate Change has adjourned...enfin! Quite a rollercoaster ending, too--U.S. walkouts, surprise last-min objections from Russia...Montreal had it all, baby! From The Guardian, UK blog:
The agreement had come close to collapsing twice. The Americans threatened to walk out on the penultimate day of the talks – gambling on their ability to entice other countries away from the table too. The bet failed. The Bush administration remained isolated and was given a roasting in the US media. An about-turn was made.
The extraordinary antics of the Russians and the Saudis brought about the other moment of high drama. On the final night, the Russian delegate, a classic Soviet-era negotiator with close-cropped hair, pink skin and big glasses, decided he wanted to remind the world that Russia was important too by bringing the talks to a standstill for several hours on procedural grounds.
When a compromise was proposed, the Saudis, past masters at obstructing these talks, instantly objected. Catastrophe was averted when Moscow woke up and issued instructions to agree a face-saving formula.
You could hear the collective sigh of relief when the deal was announced. Margaret Becket, the UK environment secretary, said she was "thrilled", adding "we got everything that we came here to get".
Here's how the TorStar described Dion's delight:
Environment Minister Stéphane Dion appeared positively giddy when, just after dawn on Saturday morning, he banged down his gavel to close the United Nations conference on climate change. Dion's relief and joy were obvious, as he hugged everyone within reach in the massive main hall of Montreal's Palais des congrès, and hundreds of weary delegates from around the world stood and cheered. After two weeks of formal meetings, closed-door consultations, sleepless nights and then, in a final mad dash, more than 48 hours of intense negotiations, he had achieved what he wanted.
All the items on his to-do list as president of the meeting were checked off: He could declare a great victory for the Kyoto Protocol, and the Earth. "We delivered," he told reporters.
Environmentalists, too, were ecstatic. Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, had tears in her eyes, as she praised Dion and "a set of agreements that may well save the planet."
Why the ecstasy?
[click "Read on, MacDuff!" to continue reading]
Because of the ironically named 'Action Plan'? Surely not. Well, despite the unambitious and somewhat non-committal 'consensus,' it was...um...a consensus! The phrase 'herding cats' comes to mind. In the end, the conference delivered the first formalized (international) trading process for emissions--one that acknowledges realities in both 'developing' and 'developed' nations:
Dirty countries and industries pay; those who are clean collect. The higher the cost of emissions, the greater the incentive to cut pollution and become a seller. One lets developed countries and their businesses earn credits by investing in emissions-cutting projects in developing nations. Poor countries are salivating over an expected flood of technology that will help them to grow in an environmentally sustainable way. Another covers trades between developed countries.
Delegates also set in motion a plan to let tropical countries earn trading credits for preserving their rainforests. [...] Markets only succeed, though, if pollution limits are tough enough to make emissions expensive. That's why China, Brazil, India and all the poorer developing countries pushed the rich nations hard to start negotiating deep cuts, with a hard deadline.
It's also why environmentalists, while thrilled that pressure from the rest of the world finally forced the United States to accept the "dialogue" agreement, are not concerned it's so vague.
The BBC post-mortem includes *cough* mixed reviews:
Tony Blair to describe the final agreement as "a vital next step in tackling climate change", and his Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett to hail a "diplomatic triumph". It is why Guy Thompson of the Green Alliance could conclude "this... keeps Kyoto alive and builds momentum towards a legally binding global framework beyond 2012", why Greenpeace International's Bill Hare could declare "the Kyoto Protocol is stronger today than it was two weeks ago", and why Tony Juniper from Friends of the Earth could opine: "This meeting has made a historic agreement which will strengthen global resolve."
[...] The "Annex 1" parties still inside the Kyoto process - in other words, developed nations plus former Soviet bloc states minus the US and Australia - pledged to "initiate a process to consider further commitments for parties included in Annex 1 (i.e. themselves) for the period beyond 2012". They vowed to begin directly, and to finish negotiations soon enough that there is a smooth transition between the date when existing targets expire (2012) and the beginning of this projected second period of commitments. So far, so good. But Kyoto Annex 1 countries account only for about one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. So what commitments has Montreal wrung from the remainder?
Essentially, a commitment to further talks, an "open and non-binding exchange of views, information and ideas" which "will not open any negotiations leading to new commitments". [...]Europe and Japan win a commitment to further binding targets for those who already have them, while for Kyoto-sceptics and the developing world, the prize is a generalised dialogue which specifically excludes concrete targets. [...] Yes, the Annex 1 parties will talk about further targets and timetables. But in reality many of them have veered spectacularly off the course required to meet their existing targets, never mind future ones. The US, responsible for between one-quarter and one-fifth of global emissions, declines to sup in the same bar.
Crucially, there is little sign that countries like India and China, with their fast-growing economies and fast-rising greenhouse gas emissions, are clamouring to join the post-Kyoto party. As Indian Environment Minister Andimuthu Raja told the BBC: "Our emissions of CO2 are only 3% of the world's total, where we have 17% of the global population. "I do believe that the calls for developing countries to take up G8 abatement commitments... are misplaced, and responsive to agendas other than genuine mitigation of climate change."
A sober assessment of these factors has led to some less up-beat assessments of Montreal. "The signposts are pointing in the right direction, but let's not get too carried away," was the advice of Camilla Toulmin, Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development. "The big industrialising nations must be included in a future binding agreement, but the key to achieving this lies with the rich countries. They must lead by example, fully accept responsibility for creating the problem and produce a substantial development dividend."
{For more on China and its growing (self)interest in combatting pollution, please check out this article: "The recent benzene spill in China is opening many citizens eyes to environmental problems in China"--By Jehangir S. Pocha, Probe International.}

I'll let Simon Retallack (senior research fellow on climate change policy at the Institute for Public Policy Research, UK) sum it all up for us:
The agreement means that a second phase of the Kyoto protocol will now be negotiated so that industrialised countries will have a new set of binding targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions when the first phase of Kyoto ends in 2012.
That is a critically important decision. It sends an important signal to business that carbon constraints are here to stay and makes new investment in low carbon technologies more likely. That, together with the decision in Montreal to adopt a series of rules to implement the Kyoto protocol, including a system of penalties to ensure compliance, means that far from being dead, as sceptics proclaimed barely a year ago, the Kyoto approach is thriving.
[...] In Montreal, global cooperation on climate change has been given a new lease of life. Industrialised countries agreed they needed to go further to address climate change, while developing countries accepted the need to discuss what they can now do.
It was no mean feat for the world to come together without being blocked by the US and its very small band of oil-rich allies. Given the dire lack of movement on future action barely a year ago, this represents an important shift. But it is only a beginning.

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