Arab States demand compensation

At a time when the Kyoto process lies dormant until Russia ratifies, and with all eyes on Iraq, the environment and energy ministers of the Arab States have signed the Abu Dhabi Declaration on Environment and Energy.

The paper is an exercise in doublespeak that manages to question the role of burning hydrocarbons in climate change on one hand, and demand assistance in mitigating its effects on the other.

Furthermore, it calls for compensation from industrialised nations for any "economic and social damage to and losses of Arab countries whose economies depend primarily on oil and gas production and export revenues" caused by Kyoto measures, citing Article Two, paragraph (8).

This states that Annex 1 parties (developed countries) "shall strive to implement policies and measures in such a way as to minimise adverse effects, including the adverse effects of climate change, effects on international trade, and social, environmental and economic impacts on other parties, especially developing countries".

This interpretation of the Protocol is unlikely to match that of the West, which sees the measures as intended for the very poorest of developing countries, not the cash-rich oil-producing states. In fact, OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) governments have made it plain that there will be no compensation for lost oil exports.

Unfair measures

Demanding the West compensates the Gulf States for not buying their oil may seem as absurd as a tobacco company demanding ex-smokers compensate them for lost income, but it does bring some interesting questions to light.

Michael Grubb, visiting professor of climate change and energy policy at Imperial College London, said: "The Declaration reiterates the longstanding complaint that OECD countries are taxing oil very heavily but not actually taxing coal - they are all talking about climate change, yet coal is much more carbon intensive."

The message this sends to the countries which rely almost solely on their oil reserves - dominated by the Declaration signatories, countries which for underlying political reasons already feel targeted by the West - is not in the spirit of a global effort to tackle climate change.

Biased protocol provisions

The problem is mirrored in the changing attitudes to Kyoto of countries such as India - the glow of global consensus is fading rapidly as developing countries come to perceive the Protocol's provisions as being stacked in the West's favour.

Technology transfer to the developing world will address energy poverty and reduce reliance on burning polluting fossil fuels - but which countries' high-tech sectors will be stimulated? Emission limits and enforced timeframes may be good for the planet, but why should countries creaking under the pressures of debt, overpopulation and lack of infrastructure, suffer further when the US can turn its back on Kyoto on the grounds that its economy will be affected?

Western self interest

And if someone as pro-Kyoto as Grubb can say that in environmental terms the world can afford to use all of OPEC's (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) oil over the coming century, and "it is actually coal that will do the biggest damage", are measures to reduce oil use really just about the environment?

Or has the rest of the world signed up to an agreement that has been subverted with a healthy dose of Western self-interest - especially as it continues to heavily subsidise the coal industry despite claiming its goal is to reduce CO2 emissions? The feeling in the Arab world is unequivocal. "We are going to suffer. These measures will impact on our wealth, our quality of life, our society's health, so we have to be compensated," a senior figure from the United Arab Emirates' energy department told EBM.

A flawed approach

Through the Declaration, the Arab States have presented a united front on the Kyoto provisions that threaten their interests, but legitimate fears about the impact of implementation measures are undermined by sticking to a policy of disputing the causes of climate change.

"There is still scientific uncertainty related to the phenomenon of climate change," the Declaration insists, and a lack of "scientific confirmation that it is primarily a result of emissions resulting from the consumption of hydrocarbon". These "unfounded allegations and doubts" will make "victims" of oil and gas producers, if allowed to inform global policies.

This attitude obscures what is the real issue for the Arab countries, what the Declaration calls the "growing trend to enforce biased limitations on oil usage on the pretext of environmental protection".

The developing world's battle to address the inequalities they perceive in the Kyoto Protocol is only beginning; and for the West, engaging with Asian and Middle Eastern states is a challenge for the international process that rivals the need to bring the US back to the table.

However, if the Arab nations are to protect themselves through a constructive dialogue with the West on fair solutions to climate change, they must accept that the problem is real, and that a real problem requires real action.



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