|Le protocole de
Une entente qui ressemble au statu quo
Selon la Commission
-gouvernementale sur le réchauffement climatique (IPCC), il faudrait réduire les
émissions de gaz à effet de serre de 50 à 70 % afin de stabiliser leur concentration
Au Sommet de Kyoto lannée dernière, les 159 pays participants se sont entendus
à réduire globalement de 5,2 % les émissions de gaz toxiques pour lan 2012, au
Ces mesures, pourtant très insuffisantes, constituent déjà de graves problèmes pour
plusieurs pays. Le débat porte en ce moment sur la quantité des réductions de gaz à
effet de serre dont les différents pays sont responsables plutôt que sur le besoin
urgent de freiner le réchauffement climatique. Pendant ce temps, les gaz à effet de
serre continuent à saccumuler au profit dun jeu politique.
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About Saving the Climate or
Preserving Status Quo?
Maria Athena D. Ronquillo
It was difficult to tell exactly what time it was after having been confined in the
negotiating halls for 14 days. I knew only that it was sometime during the wee hours of
the morning of December 10, 1997. Chairman Hiroshi Ohki, State Minister and Director
General of the Environment Agency of the Government of Japan, emerged from the chambers of
the Kyoto International Conference Hall. The President of the 3rd Session of the
Conference of the Parties (CoP-3) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change,
considered the most important and historic environmental gathering of 1997, has just
tendered his resignation in the biggest plenary session so far, stunning hundreds of
official delegates and observers. What was purportedly a historic pact to curb the
pressing issue of global climate change is on the brink of collapse. Ohki simply could not
make it happen, nor could he get his own team (some coming from the industry camp while
others represent the environmental protection agency) to agree to common terms on Japan's
emission reduction targets. The fossil fuel industry, which was successful enough in
muddling the already complex negotiations, was about to party.
It was politics at its best. The environment as the main agenda has been swept under
In a last ditch effort, Argentinean ambassador Estrada (now rumoured to be a potential
presidential candidate), as the current Chairman of the Committee of the Whole, managed to
pull the pieces together. Shortly before 7:00 a.m. of December 11, the Kyoto Protocol was
finally adopted amidst tears, joy, anger and frustration from delegates, NGO observers,
media practitioners and industry lobbyists.
The world now has the first legally binding agreement which mandates industrialized
countries to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels
during the period 2008-2012.
Digesting the Protocol
The world hailed it as a historic agreement. It was a significant first step to
addressing one of the most threatening global environmental phenomenon -- human induced
climate change. The fossil fuel lobby was devastated and their chief lobbyist was seen
reprimanding a couple of governmental delegates from oil-producing states for failing to
stop consensus and agreement. The "green energy" industry and the progressive
insurance bloc stressed that the protocol will send a very strong signal to global markets
and boost confidence in climate-friendly investments. The non-governmental sector had
mixed feelings: some called it a disaster, others agreed it was a historic pact and a
significant first step.
Let's step back a bit and do a reality check here. Five years after the framework
convention was signed in New York, and after so many preparatory meetings and negotiating
sessions in between, governments have miserably failed to craft an agreement that is
intended to save the climate and the species dependent on it. According to the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in order to stabilize greenhouse gas
concentrations in the atmosphere at present levels, emissions must be reduced by 50-70%.
If these recommendations are ignored, the world faces dangerous temperature increases of
almost 3 degree Celsius by the year 2100. Clearly, the targets set forth by the Kyoto
Protocol are inadequate. The chances of avoiding a doubling, or even a tripling, of carbon
dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are thus remote unless deeper cuts by all parties
are undertaken in the first few decades of the next century.
The Impacts of Climate Change: Developing Countries at Risk
Despite the orchestrated attempts of climate sceptics to muddle the on-going debate on
human-induced climate change and crush all efforts of countries to undertake precautionary
action, the most visible signs of global warming have taken center stage as they become
measurable and noticeable. Whilst it is true that scientists are still faced with numerous
uncertainties, the concern has increasingly grown beyond whether global warming is
happening but how bad it will be. The three hottest years on record were noted in this
decade (1990, 1995 and 1997). Recently, the US NOAA declared July 1998 as the hottest year
on record since the 1400s. The collapse of what used to be known as James Ross Island into
a full-blown lake, and the huge cracks in the Larsen B iceshelf in the Antarctica are very
alarming visible signs. The threat of sea-level rise is very real for most of the
countries in the Asian region due to their extensive and highly populated coastlines.
Extreme coral bleaching in some of the most pristine coastal areas of the Pacific,
Southeast Asia and the Pacific have been recorded as a result of sea temperature
increases. The frequency and severity of recent El Nino episodes, including the latest
97/98 episode which brought prolonged droughts and extreme weather events, have also been
cited by scientists as linked to human induced climate change.
Ironically, the "historic" Kyoto Protocol has yet to prove its environmental
So while the debate lingers on politically as to how much reduction measures countries
are willing to adopt, the global climate is changing at an alarming pace and affecting all
countries, whether major contributors to historical emissions or not. A stark contrast
appears, though, in that industrialized countries have the most resources, technology and
knowledge to deal with these emerging signs and impacts. On the other hand, developing
countries which are economically marginalized, having high population densities, are least
able to cope and are now faced with the difficult challenge of adapting to climate change.
This, to my mind, is the saddest, if not the most worrisome of all climate-related
dilemmas -- action needs to come from the industrialized world first and the political
will to do so rests solely on their own -- while the most threatened and vulnerable
developing countries can only hope for leadership and early action to come sooner rather
Questioning Kyoto's Environmental Effectiveness
Ironically, the "historic" Kyoto Protocol has yet to prove its environmental
effectiveness in terms of actually yielding results in overall GHG reductions. The reason
for the slow progress is simple enough - the main players, who have benefitted from
burning massive amounts of fossil fuel while using the atmosphere as a giant wastebasket
for greenhouse gases, are the same ones who have called the shots in the entire Kyoto
negotiations. In fact they have successfully muddled some of the most important provisions
of the protocol, rendering it open to virtually any kind of interpretations or
misinterpretations. The US, backed up by an "ad hoc" political grouping known as
the JUSCANZ (Japan, US Canada, Australia and New Zealand), made sure that it is a protocol
with lofty principles but without any teeth. Fair enough, with the loose provisions on
emissions trading, joint implementation, the clean development mechanism and
"sinks", it is clearly a protocol negotiated on the basis of purely political
interests without due regard for science and environmental objectives.
Post-Kyoto: En Route to CoP-4 in Buenos Aires
Come November, the COP-4 in Buenos Aires will again gather the same players who
hammered the Kyoto Protocol into adoption. Rendering the protocol useful and effective is
the pressing agenda of the day. This requires the closure of what is popularly known as
"Kyoto loopholes". These are flexibility mechanisms, such as trading, which may
actually result in an overall increase in emissions by industrialized countries if not
governed by strict rules of transparency, accountability and verifiability. Getting
science back to the negotiating table is equally important and must form the basis for any
decision-making. And of course, as climate impacts become more and more visible,
governments will hopefully exercise leadership in negotiating deeper emission reduction
targets and revisit the current timetable to press for early action, as early as 2005.
Inaction will have real repercussions; small islands disappearing, human lives and
ecosystems devastated as a result of extreme weather events. If the forecast of the
"green energy" industry is true, business as usual will hopefully be over soon.
It is time for change. It is time to act.