CLIMATE TALKS END ON OPTIMISTIC NOTE

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BONN, Germany, November 5, 1999 (Environmental News Service/SIDSnet)---Warning that "humanity will not forgive us if we fail," conference President Jan Szyzsko of Poland brought the latest round of United Nations climate negotiations to a close Friday.

Ministers and officials from 166 governments concluded two weeks of climate change talks that centered on enabling decisions and a timetable for completing the outstanding details of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol by the next conference set for November 13 to 24, 2000 in the Hague, Netherlands.

An "unexpected mood of optimism" was felt at this Fifth Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change (COP-5), Executive Secretary Michael Zammit Cutajar said. "The political atmospherics were good - better than expected. The engagement of ministers made a difference, and there were some encouraging technical decisions," he said.

The parties now face their own "Y2K challenge," Cutajar said, namely the achievement of a successful COP-6 where parties adopt key decisions and move to early entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol is an addition to the climate treaty that sets legally binding limits for 39 industrialized nations on the emission of six heat-trapping greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

The protocol will only enter into force and become legally binding when at least 55 countries, including developed country parties accounting for at least 55 percent of developed country emissions, have ratified it. To date only 16 countries - all from the developing world - have ratified. Eighty-three countries and the European Union have taken the initial step of signing the agreement.

A number of countries, echoing German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's call at the opening Plenary, are seeking early ratification, possibly by the tenth anniversary of the 'Earth Summit' (UNCED) in 2002. The NGO community played a key role in lobbying governments, at home and at the COP, to adopt the 2002 deadline.

The Hague meeting next year will be preceded by two one-week rounds of talks in the two subsidiary bodies, formal working groups established by the treaty, from June 12 to 16 and from September 11 to 15. Each session will be preceded by one week of informal talks and workshops.

Frank Loy, head of the U.S. delegation, expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the talks. "The nature of this conference is to make significant progress in compliance, in the rules on the mechanisms, in the discussion of capacity building and the like," Loy said. "And that all has been done. And the result of that is - assuming that it continues on the path that it is going, and is not in any way held back - that we will be in much, much better shape to come to a successful" sixth conference of parties (COP-6)." Loy told reporters that the United States strongly supports the protocol's entry into force "at the earliest possible date."

Two extremes at the talks were represented, on the one hand by the oil producing countries who did what they could to obstruct the implementation of any agreement that would reduce the use of fossil-fuels, and on the other by the Association of Small Island States who fear complete inundation if global warming melts the polar icecaps causing sea levels to rise.

Representatives from eight Pacific Island countries expressed disappointment that the rest of the world failed to decide on immediate actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help vulnerable countries adapt to climate change.

Speaking at a press conference, the representatives described a broad range of disruptive climate and sea-level changes that their islands have been experiencing, and said action to stop global warming is urgently needed.

Surangel Whipps, a congressman from Palau, described how coral bleaching has devastated parts of Palau's coral reefs, declared by the Smithsonian Institution to be one of the seven wonders of the underwater world. He said he had never seen such destruction in all his 60 years of life.

Saudi Arabia and the G-77/China group stalled a decision on the impacts on climate of emissions from fuel sold to ships and aircraft engaged in international transport. Saudi Arabia served as the issue coordinator for the G-77/China group.

Many industrialized countries such as the UK, Japan, Australia and Argentina were among those who advocated novel arrangements to keep the intensity up during the work from now until COP-6 next year, including facilitation, a Committee of the Whole and task forces. But Saudi Arabia insisted that the subsidiary bodies were the only place to negotiate and ruled out the proposal that a facilitator be used to help the process along in the year leading up to COP-6. He warned of "very serious implications" in the event of "external interference."

When asked whether representatives from Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries were attempting to obstruct the negotiations, U.S. delegation chief Loy responded that the Saudis "have a great interest in preserving the long-term market for petroleum."

"They have a right to be concerned about their future because such an overwhelming part of their national income comes from just one product - oil," Loy said. "So it's understandable why the Saudis are so concerned."

Loy said there is "a great deal of interest" by the United States in holding talks to see what can be done to address the Saudi concerns "without, however, bringing the (protocol) negotiation to a halt, or slowing it down to a walk." He added, however, that the interests of the Saudis appear to be very different from the interests of almost all other countries involved in the Bonn negotiations.

"All the other countries are very interested in coming to an early agreement, and the Saudi commitment to that is somewhat less urgent," he said. "And I think, in the end, it is not right for the world to be held hostage to that. So we must find a way to work our way through, hopefully, with the Saudis, so that the world can have a climate agreement despite the concerns of the Saudis. Cutajar presented five ideas for building confidence for success in the future negotiations.

1. Leading industrial economies can use the opportunity to demonstrate their engagement in early domestic action.

2. The CDM can be made the cornerstone of a North-South compact.

3. COP-5 has provided an opportunity to address the bottlenecks in the delivery and consideration of national communications by developing countries.

4. The credibility of the Protocol must remain a central concern. Achievement of the Protocol targets solely through "hot air" and "sinks" will undermine the commitment to modify longer-term emission trends.

5. A negotiating process needs deadlines. Pressure must be kept up for results at COP-6, with the aim of bringing the Protocol into force by 2002.

Cutajar also suggested reaching an understanding on what lies beyond COP-6, including the review of the Protocol by COP/MOP 2, the 2005 performance benchmark and the continuation of the Protocol into the second and future commitment periods.

News by Environment News Service (ENS) http://ens.lycos.com/ens/nov99/1999L-11-05-02.html 

Brought to you on the Small Island Developing States Network http://www.sidsnet.org 

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