EU and developing countries seek to save threatened Kyoto Protocol


AS THE UN’s 16th climate change conference entered its final phase, the fate of the Kyoto Protocol – the world’s only treaty on global warming – hangs in the balance, with the EU and developing countries seeking to save it.

Unless some formula can be found to bridge the gap between them and the US, Canada, Japan and Russia – all of which see no point in renewing the treaty after 2012 without China’s participation – agreement on other issues may prove elusive.

With 2010 now “almost certain” to rank among the three hottest years on record, according to the World Meteorological Organisation, and a new UN report showing glaciers in the Andes and Alaska melting faster than previously thought, the stakes are high.

Some 1,500 environmental activists and Mexican campesinos held a noisy and colourful protest in Cancún against the perceived lack of progress at the conference. Buckets of cow dung were dumped in the street and some protesters threw eggs at riot police.

Yesterday morning, Greenpeace staged a stunt that involved sinking papier-machémodels of “world icons” such as Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal and Sydney Opera House in the azure sea – to underline the need to “take action to save the climate”.

At the high-level plenary session, leaders of vulnerable small island states warned that they would be obliterated by rising sea levels. “The gravity of the crisis . . . has become lost in a fog of scientific, economic and technical jargon,” said Nauru’s president, Marcus Stephen.

UN secretary general Ban Ki- moon told delegates from 193 countries that their efforts so far had been insufficient and “despite the evidence and many years of negotiation, we are still not rising to the challenge”.

EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard, who chaired last year’s inconclusive Copenhagen summit, said it was “absolutely imperative that we deliver something, something substantial. To come out of Cancún with nothing is simply not an option.”

However US climate envoy Todd Stern complained that the “very tough” Kyoto Protocol issue was “taking up a lot of time, energy and focus at senior levels” at the expense of less contentious issues, and it was “not clear whether it’s resolvable” at Cancún.

Christiana Figueres, the new UN climate chief, conceded that positions on the Kyoto issue were “diametrically opposed”, while Antigua and Barbuda ambassador John Ashe suggested extending the protocol for a further two years.

Whether or not this is feasible, the UN Environment Programme has said that the cuts in greenhouse gas emissions pledged by countries under the non-legally binding Copenhagen Accord fell well short of limiting the rise in global temperatures at 2 degrees.

Among the issues on which progress was expected in Cancún, a new text on Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (Redd) – aimed at protecting tropical rainforests – contains stronger language on financing, but no improved safeguards for indigenous peoples.