Mixed signals from climate change body

A recent meeting in Geneva of a subsidiary body of the UN Convention on Climate Change suggests that while there is at last some movement towards substantial negotiations on a protocol which would commit developed nations to limit and reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions, it is open to question whether, by the time the full Conference of the Parties to the Convention meets in Japan next year, such a protocol can, in fact, be realised.

By Chakravarthi Raghavan

THE Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM) of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) which ended its third session on 8 March 1996, sent out some mixed signals on the progress made in the negotiations to limit and reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, particularly, carbon dioxide (CO2) to avert adverse climate change and global warming.

As the session ended, even the environment NGOs, who had been critical of what they saw as procrastination by the Annex-I Parties (i.e. the OECD and the former East European Socialist countries) and the delaying tactics of the oil TNCs and the Gulf oil exporters, expressed satisfaction that, at long last, the AGBM and delegations were getting into the substance of the negotiations.

But whether by the time of next year's third Conference of Parties (COP3), the Annex-I Parties will have formulated and accepted a protocol committing them to actions that would cut back their GHG, and particularly CO2 emissions, and make 'space' for the inevitable increased consumption of energy and concomitant CO2 emissions of developing countries is still an open question. On the basis of the discussion at Geneva and what was said at the meeting by the major energy consumers and carbon emitters (and what was left unsaid), it is difficult to be categorical as to the future outcome of these negotiations. The overwhelming weight of scientific opinion and consensus is that human-generated climate change effects are under way and action is needed if its adverse consequences are to be averted.


But a minority of scientists, and powerful oil lobbies and other interests, are trying to challenge the scientific consensus and create enough doubts in an effort to slow down any action, which would have economic costs for them.

These two trends were reflected in the intergovernmental discussions, and while efforts to accommodate the differing interests and concerns of countries were under way to produce a consensus that would be implemented, there were also some signs of impatience, exemplified perhaps by the remarks of the Chairman of the AGBM, Mr Raul Estrada of Argentina, who, in his speech opening the meeting, pointedly noted that some delegations have been intentionally slowing down the work of the Committee and that he would do everything in his power to prevent this in the future.

But subsequently Estrada told a news conference that while the AGBM had not been able to make progress on the drafting of a protocol, it would be able to report to the COP2, meeting in Geneva in July, on the progress being made in reconciling differences.

And the head of the FCCC secretariat, Mr Michael Zamit-Cutajar, told the newsmen that while the Annex-I industrial countries on their present policies and measures would not by the year 2000 be able to achieve the target of stabilising their CO2 emissions at the 1990 level, they could set in motion before that date, policies and measures to enable them to move in that direction. In the AGBM discussions, and at workshops earlier, several of the developing countries, and the environment NGOs, called for scientifically-assessed reduction levels to be embodied in legally binding commitments.

In their speeches both Dr Bolin, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), and Zamit-Cutajar injected a tone of urgency and stressed the need for actions by the industrialised countries to stabilise and cut back their CO2 emissions and create 'environmental space' for the developing countries which would need to consume more energy for their development and hence, increase their per capita CO2 emissions well into the next century.

The IPCC's views about some of the uncertainties surrounding the climate change projections had been used by the Gulf oil producers (whose economies are so dependent on oil export earnings which in turn depend on high consumption in the industrial world) and some of the Annex-I Parties to argue against any immediate action and commitments whose economic costs could be burdensome.

But, Dr Bolin, in his intervention at the AGBM, explained the basis for the IPCC's key conclusion that 'the balance of evidence suggests a human influence on global climate,' noting that natural variability did not negate this conclusion. He also pointed out that 'uncertainty' did not eliminate risk - it just made it more difficult to assess things quantitatively.

The AGBM had been mandated by the first Conference of Parties (in Berlin last year) to negotiate a protocol to the FCCC which would contain strengthened commitments by developed countries to limit and reduce their emissions of GHGs and particularly CO2.

'Menu' approach

The discussions, and comments from delegations in the lobbies, showed that the European Union has yet to come up with a unified position, although several of its members are in favour of action to reduce CO2 emissions, and for setting quantifiable targets for limitations and reductions.

While the discussions at the AGBM showed an attempt to deal with the substance of the issue, it was not clear whether all this would lead to a binding protocol of commitments, or whether there would be an effort to side-step the issue by agreeing on a 'menu' approach - listing a range of measures that countries could choose from, or a mixture of both.

The US-initiated Ministerial high-level segment of COP2 in July, would perhaps see some moves towards resolving this question - though it is difficult to see any major initiative that would involve increased costs coming from the US in an election year.

In its consideration of the Quantified Emission Limitation and Reduction Objectives (QELROs), the AGBM underscored the linkage between such objectives and the policies and measures to effect them. Several of the participants stressed the need to agree on QELROs as the first priority. The QELRO options that figured at the AGBM ranged from support for the AOSIS (Island States group) protocol for a 20% reduction from 1990 levels in CO2 to suggestions for a 10% reduction by 2005 and a 15-20% reduction by 2010.

More detailed and focused discussions on QELROs are expected to be taken up at future sessions of the AGBM.

Continuing divisions

The AGBM also saw an initiative from the Group of 77 and China on guidelines and format for preparation of initial communications from the non-Annex I parties. The proposals in the position paper presented by the G77 and China are to be further honed at a workshop for this purpose.

The Berlin Mandate has also called for the advancement of existing commitments of all parties under the Climate Convention without introducing new commitments for non-Annex I parties - a delicately balanced provision that came out from all-night negotiations in Berlin, responding to the political needs of many Parties.

But the debate in the AGBM meeting in Geneva revealed continuing divisions, although there was a significant movement forward.

The G77 and China argued that progress toward meeting the reporting requirements of non-Annex I Parties satisfied the Berlin Mandate's provision on advancing implementation of existing commitments under Article 4.1. Developing countries also emphasised the need for the provision of promised financial resources to enable reporting to go forward.

However, some Annex I Parties made it clear that they have more in mind than reporting by developing countries on emission inventories. The US noted that the IPCC found that there are significant opportunities for profitable emission reductions in all countries. Specific examples of increasing refrigerator efficiency and capturing coal-seam methane were given. The US suggested that 'coordination' (though not 'harmonisation') of such measures could be helpful. This hints at a way forward involving cooperation in implementing 'no regrets' measures (i.e. measures to mitigate climate change effects which though they involve economic costs make economic sense in terms of efficiency gains that would benefit the economy.

The Brazilian co-chair of the working group that formulated the draft guidelines for non-Annex I national communications, (agreed to by the G77 and China), elaborated on the thinking behind them, in the context of the discussions on advancing implementation of developing country commitments under the convention. The first national communications from developing countries are expected in 1997, providing information on their national circumstances and GHG inventories, the steps they are taking to adapt to climate change or mitigate net emissions, and on their resource, training and capacity-building needs. The guidelines are designed to promote comparability amongst both developing and developed country reports, without requiring the same levels of detail as for Annex I communications. The inventories should be prepared according to IPCC methodologies, but not necessarily with the same level of disaggregation as those of industrial countries, and using 1994 as a baseline year because of the lack of information for 1990 for sectors such as land-use change in many countries.

Politically sensitive

The guidelines on reporting on policies and measures taken to adapt to or mitigate climate change are, however, politically sensitive.

Many G77 states are concerned to avoid providing information that might be used to imply acceptance of a commitment by them to limit their greenhouse gases at this stage, or which might undermine subsequent claims on the GEF.

As a result, as the NGO conference newspaper ECO put it, the guidelines in this area are minimal, and several countries have given notice that they do not plan to include such information in their first national communications.

Available data (from World Resources publication) of per capita CO2 emissions from industrial processes in 1991 show that in metric tons, as against a world per capita average of 4.21, Canada and the United States had a per capita respectively of 15.21 and 19.53; in the EU, Denmark had 12.24, Germany 12.13, Finland 10.41, Belgium 10.22, the United Kingdom 10.00, Ireland 9.23, the Netherlands 9.23, Italy 6.96, France 6.56, Sweden 6.23, Switzerland 6.16, Spain 5.54, and Portugal 4.25. Among non-EU Europeans, Norway (an oil producer) had 13.74. Japan had 8.79, while Australia had 15.10.

And while in Europe the 1991 figures show high per capita carbon emissions from Russia and the former East Europeans, as Prof Bolin noted at a press conference they had all drastically reduced this, though not by a process that would be sustainable or desirable. The drastic fall in their economic activity and industrial production was largely responsible.

Among the developing countries, Singapore with 15.06, South Africa with 7.18 and South Korea with 6.05 had emissions above the world or developing country average; North Korea too had a 10.96 figure. Israel too had a 7.29 figure.

The oil producers/exporters also have very high carbon emissions (in metric tons): Iraq 27.86, a figure which includes the emissions from the oil fires in Kuwait which it had then occupied; Saudi Arabia 13.96, UAE 36.49, Kuwait 5.68, Algeria 2.16, Gabon 5.02, Mexico 3.92, Trinidad and Tobago 14.73.

Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor of the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) and the Third World Network's representative in Geneva.

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