Genesis of Eden

Genesis Home


Prescott and Gore

Dirty Dealings at Kyoto New Scientist 20/27 Dec 97

THE acceptance by the US of an apparently tough climate change agreement in Kyoto last week took place only after an extraordinary behind-the-scenes deal with Russia, New Scientist has learnt from delegates. The climate summit was saved at the last moment when the US agreed almost to match European Union targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions-but only in return for being allowed to buy extra "rights to pollute" from Russia. Early in the week, the EU twice refused to accept an 8 per cent cut in its 1990 emissions by 2010 because the US had only agreed to a reduction of 2 per cent and later 5 per cent. Then on Tuesday night, hours before the summit was due to end, the US announced the formation of a 'carbon club" consisting of itself, Canada, japan and Russia, to trade emissions permits among themselves. Emissions trading allows countries that emit below their targets to sell their unused pollution rights to countries that overemit. But the carbon club gives the North Americans and Japanese first rights to buy the expected spare permits from Russia. The trade could be lucrative. Russia's carbon dioxide emissions are now 30 per cent below 1990 levels, and European analysts suggest they will at best recover only two-thirds of that ground before 2008, when the trading will begin. European negotiators had not been told of the deal, and shortly after it had been made other countries watched in amazement as a posse of eight British delegates, headed by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, stormed across the hall to confront the US delegates. Then the Russian delegation, after pressure from the Americans, demanded that its national targets be slackened further from a proposed cut of 5 per cent to stabilisation by 2010. Russia called any reductions in emissions "a national resource" that it had a "sovereign right" to use. The deal will give Russia even more spare permits to sell to the US. With this extra element in place, the US agreed to raise its target to 7 per centwithin one point of the EU. Fellow club members Canada and japan strengthened their offers respectively from 5 to 6 per cent and from 4.5 to 6 per cent. Presented with a fait accompli, European delegates had either to accept the deal or wreck the conference. They accepted despite advice from energy analysts that trading would permit the US and Japan to raise their domestic emissions by between 12 and 16 per cent above any national targets. Fred Pearce

Playing Dirty in Kyoto New Scientist 17 Jan 98

IN the final crazy hours of the Kyoto Climate Conference, sleep-deprived ministers took decisions that could shape the world just as surely as those of Versailles in 1919 or Yalta in 1945. And, just as in a treaty to end a war, there were winners and losers. Foremost among those who are confident they came out on top is the American fossil-fuel lobby group Global Climate Coalition and its guru, Don Pearlman. I sat behind them in Kyoto as they watched those final hours on a TV screen, and I saw their sly little smiles as the chairman, finding "no consensus", threw out proposed paragraphs setting terms for developing countries to agree future targets for their emissions of greenhouse gases. Back in Washington, these people had angrily demanded targets for developing countries. But they rejoiced at the fall of those paragraphs, as it gave them a weapon with which to wreck the whole agreement in the Senate. Now we knew for sure their real priorities. History will probably pass by the Global Climate Coalition. American companies will soon realise that there is money to be made from trading in carbon pollution permits and introducing cleaner technologies. Some of its members, such as Shell, already see which way the wind is blowing. They will be among the real winners. Russia and Ukraine also have reason to be pleased with themselves. They persuaded the conference to let them increase their allowable emissions by 40 per cent between now and 2010. Of course, their industries will not conceivably be able to grow this fast. Instead, they will be selling much of that entitlement to the US and others, with whom they formed a "carbon club" in Kyoto. Analysts say that the Moscow carbon could allow the US to turn the notional 7 per cent cut in emissions that it has promised into a real increase of 10 per cent. In effect, Moscow and Kiev will be laundering carbon credits for the US. And if anyone tries to write rules to prevent the trade, the club members will invoke the precedent of the European Union, which soon will redistribute its overall 8 per cent reduction target among its member states without seeking anyone else's permission. The dirty boys did well in Kyoto. Iceland, a big emitter, won a 10 per cent increase on the grounds that it is installing a new aluminium smelter. And, that even bigger emitter, Australia, which threatened not to accept any limit on its emissions, was made an offer too good to refuse. First came a licence to increase its emissions by 8 per cent. Then, in the final hours, it won an amendment that allows it to benefit massively from past deforestation. Under the Kyoto Protocol, countries will claim credit for any increase they make to their carbon "sinks", mostly forests. Plant a forest to absorb carbon dioxide from the air and they can emit that much more CO2, from burning fossil fuels. So a country with a lot of land could do well. Australia, uniquely among the countries with targets, remains a net forest destroyer. Up to 30 per cent of its CO2, emissions in 1990, the baseline date for the targets, were from deforestation. But far from being penalised for this, Australia won the right to count any improvement from this position as a carbon credit. It won't have to plant a single tree to benefit. It just has to make sure it doesn't cut down quite as many. Nice work, I say. Some of the other winners kept very quiet. A glance down the list of countries with the highest per capita emissions Of C02 reveals that 10 of the top 20 emitters in 1995 have not been asked to accept targets. They include the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Brunei, Kazakhstan, Trinidad and Tobago, and Singapore, along with flotsam of empire such as the Netherlands Antilles. All have per capita emissions substantially higher than the EU, and between two and five times that of poverty-stricken Romania, which also accepted an 8 per cent cut at Kyoto. Kyoto was a big step forward in tackling global warming. But, with the wealthy, forceful nations extracting huge concessions from exhausted delegates, it left serious questions about the equitable application of its rules.

13 Dec 97

NEGOTIATORS from more than 150 countries flew out of Kyoto, Japan, this week after agreeing only the weakest of compromise to combat global warming. A host of un resolved issues remain, each of whic could yet make the agreement unworkable. As New Scientist went to press, th meeting's chairman, Rafil Estrada-Oyuel of Argentina, was proposing a range national targets for reducing carbon dioxid emissions. They ranged from an 8 per cen cut by 2010 from 1990 levels for th European Union to a 5 per cent cut by the US, Japan and Russia and a 5 percent increase for Australia and Norway This would represent an overall cut b industrialised nations of 5 per cent. Estrada-Oyuela called this a "modes achievement", but all delegates conced that the final targets will mean little unti the rules to enforce them have been estab lished. Matthew Spencer of the environ mental group Greenpeace warns that th unresolved "loopholes" in the agreemen could allow C02 increases of up to 15 pe cent by 2010. Among the key undecided issues which will now not be agreed until the nex meeting of the convention in Buenos Aire next year-is how countries should be allowed to trade spare emissions "permissions". Negotiators agreed in principle that countries wanting to emit above their targets could buy permits from countries that were under-emitting, but no rules have been agreed. For instance, some nations want to set a limit on how much a country can offset its emissions reductions through trading.

'The final targets will mean little without the rules to enforce them'

There is also no agreement on whether countries should be allowed to emit more C02 if they plant trees or help reduce emissions abroad. Again, negotiators accepted the principle that they should gain credits in this way, but faced with fears about fraud and scientific uncertainty they have postponed decisions on which carbon "sinks" would qualify. A Brazilian idea of a "clean development fund" to help developing countries buy greenhouse-friendly technologies was popular. But delegates were unable to decide whether rich nations should gain carbon credits by funding its projects. Some issues were left out of the deal altogether. These included emissions from aircraft and shipping, which make up as much as 5 per cent of global CO2 emissions but remain outside any control agreement. .Behind the scenes in Kyoto there has been deep anger from all quarters at the US opposition to more than token cuts, and its insistence that "key" developing countries participate in reduction targets. In his speech to the conference, US Vice-President Al Gore claimed that his country was offering to make the steepest cuts of any nation because it was forgoing anticipated emissions increases of 30 per cent by 2010.

John Gummer, former British environment secretary, snapped: "Rubbish. By his formula Britain is offering a 50 per cent cut." Estrada-Oyuela's proposed agreement includes three greenhouse gases-CO2, methane and nitrous oxide. A target for three other gases-HFCs, PFCs and SF6has been postponed until the Buenos Aires meeting. The situation has been further complicated by an announcement from the US, Canada and Russia that they want to form a carbon "club" to trade emissions rights between them. THE US wants to teach Bolivian peasants to grow orchids and work as tour guides to discourage them from chopping down trees in a national park. It says the 30-year aid project will prevent the release of 14.5 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. But the scheme is not as altruistic as it sounds, since the US would like to claim the carbon as a "credit" to set against its own cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. In effect, it wants to be allowed to emit the carbon from power plants and vehicle exhausts at home. The US also wants to fund wind energy in Costa Rica and biomass in Honduras. It says such schemes, known as "joint implementation", would "provide strong incentives for companies to search the globe for the lowest-cost means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions". But critics call it a brazen attempt to avoid doing more to reduce emissions at home, and they say it would be impossible to police and monitor. For example, there is nothing to stop the Bolivians cutting down the forests after the aid workers have gone home. And why, as Brazilian delegate Gylvain Filho Meiro asked, should any nation gain credits for protecting forests when this is already an obligation under the climate convention? Joint implementation and other proposals-such as controlling emissions of six greenhouse gases rather than just carbon dioxide, another American idea-have radically altered the agenda for climate action. Scientists say that the complications threaten to make the entire process unworkable. Bert Bolin, outgoing chairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warns against introducing a system that is not "scientifically sound". British government scientist Merylyn McKenzie-Hedger points out that most nations' estimates of the carbon stored in forests are "very poor". Jan Corfee Morlot, a scientist with the OECD, concludes that the inclusion of carbon "credits" .2 and gases other than CO, in iz a climate agreement would create "ambiguity and confusion". She says that carbon credits from forestry should not be eligible for trading. And Adam Markham of the World Wide Fund for Nature warns that rewarding countries for planting forests would provide "dangerous incentives to clear old, natural forests to plant new ones for carbon credit". There is another problem with joint implementation: nobody has got round to asking the Bolivians if they want to become orchid farmers.

A rotten prospect for the tropics

For the sceptics about global warming: see New Scientist 19 July 1997

The following three editorials give an international perspective on the situation from the Guardian Weekly (Guardian, Le Monde, Washington Post)

Kyoto Deal 'Leaves US free to Pollute' Manchester Guardian 21 Dec 97

IT WAS the longest night of the most acrimnious sesgon of the most frenetic set of negotiations in which 160 governments have ever engaged. In the end, exhausted and with no one claiming outright victory, they emerged last week with an agreement that may cut global greenhouse gas emissions by an average 5.2 per cent within 15 years. But even as the 10,000 officials, industry lobbyists and eco-activists prepared to emit huge masses of carbon dioxide flying home from Kyoto, United States Congress members representing coal, oil and steel interests were preparing to scupper the treaty by voting it out when it goes before them for legal ratification next year. And the US vice-president, Al Gore, said the Clinton administration would not even send the treaty to the Senate unless Third World countries agreed to its terms. European analysts claimed that the US, the world's largest polluter by far, would need to make no reduction at all because of clauses that allowed emission-trading with other countries. The compromise requires the European Union to reduce its greenhouse emissions by an average of 8 per cent below 1990 levels, the US by 7 per cent and Japan by 6 per cent! There are similar targets for other industrialized countries which must be met between 2008 and 2012, with further cuts to follow. In all 38 countries will cut emiasions below 1990 levels. Developing countries, the Russian Federation and Ukraine are not obliged to change their energy policies. The EU's average will let less-developed countries such as Greece and Portugal reduce their emissions by less. Speaking at the end of the conference, Britain's deputy prime minister, John Prescott, who with the British environment minister, Michael Meacher, was acknowledged to have been largely responsible for saving the talks from breakdown, said This historic deal will help curb the problems of climate change. It commits developed countries to make legally binding cuts in their emissions. It is good news for the environment and good news for international diplomacy." As President Clinton, the Japanese prime minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, and other world leaders hailed the agreement, the EU commissioner, Ritt Bjerregaard, remaimed sceptical: "We would have liked the parties to be more ambitious. But with the pressure from senators, the car manufacturers, the oil companies and others, I think it was very surprising and encouraging that the Americans came up with a figure of 7 per cent." The US failed to achieve several of its aims, including making developing countries agree to targets and timetables. But European analysts said Washington had technically won a business-as-usual deal and could avoid making any cuts at all. The agreement is known to include the possibility of complex trading of pollution rights between certain countries. Russia and Ukraine have seen their emissions drop with the collapse of heavy industry from the fall of communism. Rich countries will be able to buy their unused portion to set against their own emissions. "It looks like the US will be able to sidestep the agreement pay Moscow and claim the cuts as their own," a spokesman for the Royal Institute for London said. Greenpeace said "the agreement will not protect the world from dangerous change on its own, but it is a turning point It has merely delayed the inevitable move away from coal and oil, but at a very high price," Details of how the agrement which comes into force when 60 countries have signed it, will be policed have left to a further meeting expected to be held in Argentina next year.

Editorial Le Monde A Clean Break with the Past

THE Kyoto climate change conference, which ended in the early hours of December 11, was the scene of interminable horse-trading. The talks showed, sadly, just how seffish some nations can be and how successfully arms can be twisted by pressure groups. The terrible prospect that global warming represents for the billions of human beings who will have to face increasingly severe droughts, floods and cyclones was sometimes forgotten in the welter of technocratic and corporate jargon. But it would be wrong to dismiss the step forward made by the the international community, now that its eyes have been opened to a glaringly obvious risk ended up great strides to prevention. True, targets for gerrnhouse gas emissions (cuts of between 6 cent for the main polluter countries) still fall far short of what they should be. According to expert scientific opinion, we shall need to reduce them by more than haff the present level to avert all risk. But an initial step forward has been made. For the first time an apparently inexorable process has been reversed a - a process set in motion by a blinkered and suicidal urge to go on producing more and more. The messagee of Kyoto is that our societies should stop basing their growth on the principle of an interminable scramble to consume more energy, and that since they will have to make do with less they should strive to be more effective. That will require them to economise, optimise, rationalize and modernise instead of acting as if air, water and the soil, which are vital for the survival of the human race did not have their own equilibrium, an equilibrium that needs to be carefully husbanded by mankind. There is another lesson to be learnt from Kyoto: the spectacular emergence of ecology on the economic scene. Since the climate is being changed by man we maust manage it. Now that human activity is the main factor in transforming nature, inevitably there will be repercussions in terms of economic instruments and mechanisms. This is already true of pollution, waste, the ozone layer, water, forests, and maritime and land resources. The environment is no longer purely a question of protection or ideology. It has taken on a market "value", and that value carries a price tag with it In this respect, certain, options discussed at Kyoto, but not yet adopted, appear highly debatable. The introduction of a "pollution market' that would enable trading-in-pollution rights has been touted as a guarantee of efficiency. And so much the better if that is true. But there would be an intolerable perversion of the system if that market were to become a channel through which the rich, because they were rich, could simply buy firom the poor the right to go on behaving wastefully. It would be rather as if certain car owners were allowed to buy the right to drive at 2OOkph while all other drivers were forced to observe speed restrictions in the in general interest (December 12),

EDITORIAL Washington Post Not Yet a Treaty on Global Warming

THE CLIMATE change agreement reached in Kyoto is both more and less than the Clinton administration suggests. The industrial nations of the world, including the United States, agreed to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases to about 7 percent below 1990 levels by sometime between 2008 and 2012. 'That may not sound like much, and it may not sound like soon. But greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and five others come from burning oil, gas and coal, and as such are infinitely connected to almost every aspect of daily fife: heating, air conditioning, driving, manufacturing. And the United States, if it stays on its current path, will be 34 percent above 1990 levels by the year 2010. Ihat means a 7 percent reduction actually represents a reduction of more than a third. Nothing in the administration's record during the past five years has laid the groundwork for such a radical change, and President Clinton's proposed five-year, $5 billion program of tax incentives and research subsidies is small potatoes next to the dramatic transformation implied by the Kyoto promise.

That's why, all along, the administration acknowledged that some kind of binding targets would be needed the certainty that energy use will become more expensive, or at least that the differential between wasteful and efficient energy use will grow. Thats where the Kyoto pact as it now exists seems to us more modest than some of the claims being made for it, at least so far. Vice President Al Gore referred to the agreement as "historic,' saying 'the nations of the world agreed" "to take strong, binding action against global warming." But only some of them did the industrialized countries and what they signed on to is only half a treaty, which is to say not yet a treaty at all. That does not mean, as some Republican senators would have it, that the half-treaty is without value and should be rejected tight away. It's no small thing that the world's industrialized nations the world's major polluters have promised in principle to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions and to be held accountable for their promises. The European Union's acceptance, after years of skepticism, of the idea of market mechanisms also represents significant progress. The administration has pledged to keep working on the treaty to secure the involvement of developing countries, among other matters and it should be given a chance to do so.


China's Runaway Coal Fires New Scientist 9 Aug 97

RUNAWAY natural fires that are rampaging through coalfields in northern China could be contributing up to 3 per cent to worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide, the major global warming gas. The situation is so serious that the Chinese govemment has called in Dutch scientists to help it put them out. The fires, some of which stretch for more than 20 kilometres, are incinerating up to 200 million tonnes of coal a year. Many of them are semipermanent and have been buming for years, some even for decades. They break out periodically in the coalfields that cover much of the mountainous north of the country, from Manchuria to the Kazakh border. The coal seams lie close to the surface in this dry region and can ignite spontaneously when oxygen is present. Some blazes may be started by forest fires. The Beijing Remote Sensing Corporation has now asked for Dutch technical assistance in setting up a satellite and aircraft monitoring system that will locate fires in remote areas by identifying flames, heat and smoke. Fire-fighting teams will then attempt to put out the fires, or confine them by cutting fire-breaks in the coal. Henk Schalke of the Netherlands Institute of Applied Geoscience, who is heading the project to control the fires, warns that putting them out "will be the hardest part of the work". The project was announced last month by the Dutch institute's parent body, the Netherlands Organisation of Applied Scientific Research. It will first attempt to save the region's most valuable coal-anthracite seams in the Helan mountains of the Ningxia autonomous region, 1000 kilo metres west of Beijing. These seams are estimated to lose a mil lion tonnes of coal a year. The fires in China emit more co carbon dioxide in a year than the whole of the Netherlands. r Schalke says the Dutch government hopes that any success in curbing the fires will count towards meeting its own national targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, set by the international climate change convention. Plans to allow such an arrangement are being discussed this week in Bonn at negotiations aimed at finalising a new international emissions agreement later this year. Fred Pearce

Global Emission Talks Stall as Nations Argue NZ Herald Nov 98

BUENOS AIRES - Bickering between industrialised and developing countries yesterday again snagged efforts to forge a plan to cut industrial emissions that are blamed for warming the planet. The Group of 77 poorer countries and China pushed a proposal to encourage rich nations to invest in clean technologies in the developing world as a way to cut emissions, and to postpone a United States plan to let industrialised countries trade allowances to emit greenhouse gases from fossil fuels. Industrialised nations want the programmes to work in tandem and said the fight against global warming should not be transformed into an effort aimed mainly at helping poorer countries. ' The dispute has stalled action on ways to give industrialized countries more flexibility in meeting their targets under the pact reached last year in Kyoto, Japan to cut emissions by 5.2 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2009-2012. 'People are concerned that the meeting is back to the old dynamic that occurred in Kyoto between the north and south,' said Michael Oppenheimer, chief scientist of the Environmental Defence Fund. Rich countries are also split with the European Union (ELT) wanting countries to do most of their cleaning up at home, while the United States insists on unlimited use of emissions trading and other 'flexible mechanisms" to shift cuts elsewhere. The European Commissioner for the Environment, Ritt Bjerregaard, said the EU would try to forge links with the G77 and examine ways Europe could finance clean projects in developing nations as part of a drive to ensure Progress in Buenos Aires. "I. hope that we can now put much more concrete into the negotiations with the G77, and at the same time put pressure on the Americans so that we can make absolutely sure that, for the first world, they first and foremost have to act domestically," she said. Advocates of the deal to curb emissions fear negotiators are putting off hard decisions to avoid confrontations. "They think they'll be in a more consensual mood next time, but they won't be. There's a fundamental north- south divide on this," said Georg Jensen, of the World Wide Fund for Nature. But British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said the issue of the developing world's role in fighting global warming was too divisive to be dealt with at this meeting. "If it was on the agenda, we would be faced with a massive debate and probably a breakdown, with a bloodx war on the agenda," he said. Efforts to jump-start the talks resumed yesterday after developing countries tried to set rules for the piogranime to encourage mvestment in their technological needs. - REUTERS