Tue, 16 Dec 2003

Conference agrees to combat climate change

Stevie Emilia, The Jakarta Post, Milan, Italy

Some 95 ministers agreed to coordinate action against climate change, moving forward on making the final building blocks of the climate change treaty despite Russia's wait-and-see attitude toward ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.

At the 9th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the ministers and heads of delegations adopted some two dozen legal decisions and explored a wide range of options for limiting greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to the impacts of climate change as well as preparing further actions by national governments, civil society and the private sector to prepare for the entry of the treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, into force.

The 12-day conference's ultimate success was in making the carbon trade mechanism operational, with first projects expected to be registered early next year as well as some developed countries -- The European Union, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland -- renewing their pledge to contribute US$410 million annually to developing countries through these funds and other avenues.

According to conference president Miklos Persanyi, discussions during the 12-day conference were difficult but constructive success has been reached despite Russia's apprehension about ratifying the treaty

"Ministers and heads of delegations agree at this conference that climate change poses a real challenge to humanity and they indicate they will welcome the speedy entry of the treaty into force," he said.

The upcoming conference is set to take place in Buenos Aires in December next year.

Head of Indonesian delegation Liana Bratasida, Deputy Minister for the Preservation of the Environment, welcomed the conference's result, saying it has taken more important decisions than the previous one in Delhi.

"The conference shows that the commitment and the political will to deal with climate change-related disasters are there," she said.

Although carbon emission trade is now fully operational, Liana said a few little details were still missing on the scheme, like implementation details on land use, land use change and forestry.

She said the conference so far had agreed on the definition for such projects as well as provided general guidelines, but it still could not be operational.

"We have no experience in conducting such projects so we need detailed implementation guidelines, not general ones," Liana said.

Under the scheme, developed countries, high greenhouse gas emitters, can meet their emission targets by organizing forestry or clean energy projects in developing countries.

A delegation member, the Minister of Forestry's senior advisor on partnership, Sunaryo, expressed regrets about the missing details.

"I hoped at this conference, we could reach agreement on land use, land use change and forestry and that such projects could be fully operational," said Sunaryo.

Some environment groups decried such forestry projects, fearing it might turn into a commercial project that sacrifices the environment in the process.

"It's true that from the land owner's side it's all about money, but if it's for reforestation work, it's not only about money but also about cutting down carbon emission which is good for the environment. People can say it's all about money but once it is operational, there will be guidelines and strict control," Sunaryo said.

"Once Indonesia ratifies Kyoto, we can benefit from this emission trade and I think it's not only us hoping the conference will make the forestry project under the carbon emission trade fully operational, even developed countries have to meet their emission targets by 2008," he said, adding that such a project is cheaper than having to use or create clean technology that is costly and takes time to produce significant results.

Developed countries have to meet their emission targets as required by the treaty during the first commitment period between 2008-2012.

The conference also progressed in developing the carbon emission trade afforestration and reforestation guidelines that are expected to provide a sound and credible foundation for projects, as well as the common reporting format and the good practice guidance which is hoped to launch an era of better forest data in national inventories as a basis for better decisions in the future.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) welcomes the conclusion of final rules which recognize that such forestry projects can have significant environmental and socio-economic impact.

However, the environmental group raised concern as the rules do not adequately address issues like the potential use of large- scale commercial plantations and genetically modified organisms and vows to monitor the project implementation closely.

WWF also praised efforts to reject attempts by the U.S. delegation at the conference to propose alternative approaches to the treaty with its calls for more scientific research and investment in new technologies, dismissing the calls as unrealistic and an excuse for delaying emission cuts.

"The Bush proposals are a mandate to keep polluters in business. They are not only woolly, economically unviable and unscientific but the U.S. has no proof that they would deliver any CO2 reductions at all," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the WWF Climate Change Program.

"This meeting strongly reconfirmed that the only international approach to tackling global warming is the Kyoto Protocol."

According to WWF, Russia is still on track to join the world's only international agreement on climate change.

"The latest word from Moscow is that the Russian ratification process is still under consideration and is most likely to happen sometime after the presidential elections in March 2004," said Alexey Kokorin, head of WWF-Russia's Climate Change Program.

"The Kyoto Protocol is built on solid foundations. The house is now ready for 120 countries to move in. All we need is for Russia to put the key in the door."

Head of the Russian delegation Alexander Bedritsky, however, stirred more controversy over Russia's ratifying process during the conference, saying the ratification is still under consideration, but the lack of clear and specific guidance on the realization of the joint implementation projects make the Kyoto Protocol's concepts "not very attractive for its industry as well as for potential domestic investors".

The head of the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorological and Environmental Monitoring said the attempts to include legal sanctions or penalties had transformed the Protocol from an international treaty into a business contract clinching a deal under unfavorable conditions.

He also quoted President Vladimir Putin saying that, "We hope that Russia will not be the center of everybody's attention and that it will not be treated as a cow that the whole world would milk in attempt to resolve its problems. We want to resolve them but we want to ensure that we approach these problems in a fair manner".