UN Conference On Climate Change - What Is At Stake?

November 8, 2001

With 24 hours to go at the UN Climate Talks in Marrakech, Morroco, Environment Ministers continue high level negotiations to reach a final agreement. The last 10 days have seen serious attempts to undermine the principles signed up to in July under the Bonn agreement, particularly from the Russian, Japanese, Australian and Canadian delegations. But if Ministers adhere to the principles of the Bonn agreement, as they have on compliance, rapid progress can be made. While these talks are largely technical, with few new political trade-offs to be made, the arrival of Ministers is essential to ensure conclusion of the talks and the adoption of the conference decisions. If a complete package of legal text is agreed here, the fundamental architecture of the Kyoto regime will be in place, enabling even recalcitrant countries to ratify, and paving the way for future emissions reductions.

The Good News

On Tuesday (6/11), delegations reached a late night decision on compliance, thereby agreeing to the enforcement system for the international climate regime. Demands made by the Umbrella Group, particularly Japan and Russia, were resisted and the text being put forward for approval by Ministers reflects the Bonn accord.

Delegates also agreed to consider the latest findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at a special workshop to be held next year. Attempts by Saudi Arabia to block this process were overcome and the proposal paves the way for a more science-based approach to negotiations on tackling climate change in the future.
Congratulations to the Czech Republic, who ratified the Kyoto Protocol on Tuesday (6/11).

New Zealand has also committed to ratifcation, confirming that the Umbrella Group is collapsing and that Australia, Canada, Japan and Russia are increasingly isolated.

Outstanding Priority Issues

Key issues still need to be resolved by Environment Ministers. These include:

  • Eligibility to participate in the Kyoto flexibility mechanisms (emissions trading and projects under the Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation) must depend on countries accepting the compliance package.
    Without this link, there would be very little incentive for countries to comply with their targets and the Kyoto system would be difficult to enforce.
  • To prevent cheating, all sinks activities should face the same reporting requirements as emissions sources. Tough rules on the use of sinks are needed to ensure that countries cannot exploit the sinks provisions agreed in Bonn to avoid making any meaningful reductions. In particular, attempts by Canada, Australia, Japan and Russia to allow unused sinks credits to be banked and counted against targets negotiated in the next Commitment Period should be resisted; sinks rules will have to be revised for the second Commitment Period and banked sinks credits would prejudge that discussion.
  • Russia must not be allowed to increase its domestic sinks allowance from 17 megatonnes to 33 megatonnes by reopening the Bonn agreement.
  • Attempts by Japan to further extend the Bonn sinks loophole under the Clean Development Mechanism should also be resisted. Rules designed to limit the environmental and social impacts of sinks are necessary and CDM sinks projects should not go forward until these rules have been agreed.

Looking Forward

With just one day to go, Ministers must now settle the outstanding issues and arrive at a final deal. As long as Governments stick to the agreement made in Bonn in July, they will have time to address the crucial issue of how the fight against dangerous climate change will be taken forward at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.

The impacts of climate change will be felt most strongly in developing countries - but the most vulnerable countries are also the least equipped to deal with these impacts. The consequences will be devastating for poor communities, and lead to greater global inequality.

In a report released today, the UN Environment Programme shows that the harvest levels of some of the world?s most important food crops could fall by one third in some areas, because of climate change. For every one degree (C) rise in temperature in the Tropics, harvest levels of crops such as rice, wheat and maize are predicted to drop by 10 per cent [ 1 ]. With the world population growing, this will have a devastating impact on the ability of poor communities to feed themselves.

But it is also vital that efforts to avoid dangerous climate change do not prevent poor communities from meeting their energy needs for cooking, lighting, heating and cooling. This will require massive investment in energy infrastructure, and in clean energy options. Governments must also commit to a wholesale reorientation of energy investment and an end to fossil fuel subsidies. They must recognise that development projects must be sustainable development projects - and that they too must strive towards sustainable economies if global inequality is to be overcome.

[1] Research from the International Rice Research Institute and GRID Arendal, published by United Nations Environment Programme, 8/11/01

Friends of the Earth International experts are in Marrakech throughout COP7.

For further information contact:

Kate Hampton
FOEI International Climate Coordinator
Ph: +44 774 896 7323

Helen Burley
FOEI Press
Ph: +44 7778 356888