Kyoto comes into force amid celebrations, warnings and protests

The Kyoto Protocol officially came into force this week, with a series of events around the world celebrating its start. The treaty commits 140 nations to cutting their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by at least five per cent below 1990 levels.

"The 16th of February 2005 marks the beginning of a new era in international efforts to reduce the risk of climate change," said Joke Waller-Hunter, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Climate Change Convention. "The Kyoto Protocol offers powerful new tools and incentives that governments, businesses and consumers can use to build a climate-friendly economy and promote sustainable development."

A special relay of messages from politicians and international ambassadors was broadcast via video hook-up at the Kyoto International Conference Hall where the Protocol was officially adopted in December 1997.

UK Environment Minister, Margaret Beckett said: "Today is the historic commemoration of a huge achievement which rightly bears the name of the city of Kyoto, where the Protocol's first steps were agreed. There have been a number of occasions for celebrations along the way - in Bonn and Marrakech - when we reached the legal agreements that underpin the Protocol. There have also been moments of anxiety and disappointment when many wondered if this day would ever come. Kyoto has only come into force because of the determination of peoples and governments across the world to work together as a global community to tackle climate change, the most self-evidently global of issues. The Kyoto Protocol is the first step. We look forward to taking further steps in the years ahead."

Her comments were echoed by European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas who said: "Kyoto is only a first step - the EU is ready to discuss further-reaching measures for the post-2012 period and we urge the rest of the international community to engage in this discussion at the earliest opportunity."

Friends of the Earth however, criticised the European Union for backing away from its leadership role in refusing to earmark targets for future gas emissions cuts after the first commitment period of Kyoto ends in 2012.

"The EU has acknowledged that the impacts of climate change will cost a lot more than action to fight it. Yet, the new strategy recommends to EU governments to give up the leadership role and stop moving until someone else moves. This is a dangerous slap in the face of people in developing countries who are already suffering from droughts, floods or mudslides triggered by climate change as a result of emissions in industrialised countries," said Jan Kowalzig, climate campaigner at FoE. "The EU has the technological knowledge and the economic strength to continue to take the lead on future emission reductions."

The entry into force also marked the beginning of a global, rather than just European, carbon market. This is designed to stimulate investment in emissions saving projects around the world to help industrialised countries meet their targets through the flexible mechanisms provided for under the Protocol, such as the Clean Development Mechanism.

However, the World Bank issued a warning, urging industrialised nations to address the uncertainties of the post-Kyoto period, after 2012. It said that there wasn't much time left for investments in emissions reduction projects in the developing world as it takes it takes time to get planning permission, design the project, and then get the finance for such things as wind power projects, or geo-thermal energy plants. Typically this process takes five years. This means that there will only be a few years left, in the current scheme, to get emissions reductions counted for compliance purposes.

Ken Newcombe, Manager of the Carbon Finance Business Unit at the World Bank, said: "The most important issue right now is ensuring supply from the developing countries of emissions reductions, because the demand has suddenly increased enormously as companies in Europe received their targets for emissions reductions and European governments like Spain, Italy and Denmark have entered the market on a large scale. If, as expected, Canada and Japan also ramp up their demand for developing country emissions reductions there will be a supply crunch that will need special efforts in market development to overcome."

In response to this the World Bank is meeting with its 45 country advisory group to discuss ways of catalysing a supply response in developing country markets that will galvanise new investment in clean technology over the next two years.

In London, 35 Greenpeace activists stormed the International Petroleum Exchange to protest about the amount of oil still being traded, as well as a dinner at the Grosvenor House hotel honouring the work of Lee Raymond, Chief Executive of Exxon, the world's largest oil company. Greenpeace see him as the man who led efforts to wreck the Kyoto treaty and claimed it was a "crass decision" to invite him over on the day the protocol comes into effect.

At the dinner, Mr Raymond warned Europe that a "reality check" was needed over Kyoto commitments, and said European targets would be very difficult to achieve. He also attacked the UK Government's tax policy for North Sea operators, claiming that operating costs were among the highest in the world and needed to be made more competitive.

Exxon recently announced the highest quarterly profit in its history as well as the highest full year profits of US$25 billion. This is greater than the whole GDP of countries such as Guatemala and Syria.

Exxon has often publicly doubted the science behind global warming and is opposed to the Kyoto Protocol. Greenpeace protestors branded Mr Raymond as the "number one climate criminal".

The protocol was only able to be fully ratified after Russia agreed to sign up in October last year (see related story). Australia and the US - the world's biggest polluter - have still refused to sign.

By David Hopkins



Waste & resource management
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