Agreement in Marrakech keeps Kyoto Protocol alive

Parties to the UN Climate Change Convention agreed the mechanics of its implementation following extensive negotiations over a two-week period in Marrakech. The agreement, reached on November 10 opens the way for governments to ratify the Protocol beginning next year.

The deal came about only after last-minute concessions by the European Union to Russia, Japan, Australia, and Canada and although the noises from the officials suggest the conference was a success, privately many negotiators and environmentalists are furious.

By far the biggest winner in Marrakech was Russia. With the United States having rejected the treaty, Russia's participation became essential. The treaty cannot go into force unless at least 55 countries that emit 55 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases ratify the accord. With the US, which accounts for roughly a quarter of global greenhouse-gas emissions, out of the picture, Russia holds the key to reaching the 55 per cent target.

Aware of its strong position, Moscow drove a hard bargain and got what it wanted. Just before the conference got underway, Russia demanded that its credit for storing carbon in sinks (forests and agricultural lands) be raised to 34 million metric tons, twice the amount allotted it under the Bonn Agreement adopted last July. Despite repeated assurances by Olivier Deleuze, the EU's chief delegate at the talks, that the Bonn Agreement would not be reopened, the EU gave in to the Russian demand.

In the end, the Russians got the best of both worlds: They became a major player in the Kyoto process and did so be extracting a concession that will lessen the treaty's economic burden on their country.

Japan, another heavyweight at Marrakech, walked away with a concession on the thorny issue of compliance. Tokyo strongly objects to the emissions-reductions targets laid down in the Kyoto Protocol being "legally binding." At COP-7, the Japanese succeeded in getting resolution of the issue put off until the treaty has gone into force. After that, ratifying nations will vote on the issue at the COP/MOP, a mopping up session to be held sometime after the World Summit on Sustainable Development set for Johannesburg in September 2002.

The goal of the COP-7 negotiations at Marrakech was to develop a "rulebook" showing how the treaty is to be implemented. It has long been recognized, even by the treaty's supporters, that the climate pact adopted at Kyoto four years ago was so vaguely worded that it meant many things to many people. It was one thing to require industrialized nations to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases to specified targets by 2008-2012. It was quite something else to figure out how this was to be done in a manner equitable to the industrialized nations covered under the pact.

Though the treaty's supporters in Marrakech still expressed the hope that the US can be brought back into the Kyoto fold, the American delegation at COP-7 left no doubt that, for Washington, the global warming pact is not an option. Paula Dobriansky, under-secretary of state for global affairs, said the US was looking for a global solution to climate change, one that would be a "tapestry" of national and regional measures, rather than the single worldwide system provided by the Kyoto Protocol.

Describing the outcome of the negotiations, the editor of Earth Negotiations Bulletin puts it this way - "It remains to be seen whether Marrakech will be remembered for its wisdom and moderation in providing the first steps for a multilateral response to climate change, or whether it will be remembered for the belligerent bargaining tactics that many believe have unduly undermined the environmental integrity of the Kyoto Protocol."

171 governments and a total of some 4500 participants attended the Marrakech conference, which is the seventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP 7). COP 8 will be held in October 2002 in India.

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