Climate change negotiations enter penultimate round in Bonn

International negotiations on global climate change will continue at a major United Nations conference in Bonn, Germany from 25 October to 5 November, with some 5,000 participants from 150 countries are expected to attend.

Developed countries are deeply concerned about the economic implications of the planned rapid transition to a lower-emissions economy, including the potential impact on trade competitiveness, both among themselves and vis-à-vis those developing countries that are now industrialising.

The Kyoto Protocol will only enter into force and become legally binding when at least 55 countries, including developed countries accounting for at least 55% of developed country emissions, have ratified. So far, only 14 countries – all from the developing world – have ratified the Protocol.

The current negotiations will define the rules by which developed countries could lower the costs of meeting their targets by reducing emissions in other countries through the so-called flexibility mechanisms.

A related issue will be determining the consequences for a country of failing to comply with the Protocol targets. The talks may also open the way for key developing countries to become more involved in addressing climate change in the future. The negotiations are scheduled to conclude at the next major conference, to be held in The Hague, The Netherlands, possibly in November 2000.

The Protocol’s three flexibility mechanisms still need to be made fully operational. Priority will be given to finalising the clean development mechanism (CDM). The CDM is intended to promote sustainable development by encouraging developing-country projects that avoid emissions or strengthen adaptation to climate change impacts; developed countries will receive credit against their targets for financing these projects.

The joint implementation (JI) programme will offer credits for contributing to projects in other developed countries (including the countries of Central/Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union). An international emissions trading regime will allow developed countries to buy and sell emissions credits amongst themselves.

The Parties must elaborate the nature and scope of these mechanisms, the criteria for project eligibility, baselines for measuring a project’s contribution to reducing emissions, the roles of various institutions, and an accounting system for allocating credits. The environmental credibility of the Protocol will be strongly influenced by these details.

In addition, credibility demands that there be procedures regarding compliance with the emissions targets; this is a difficult issue and, in the case of legally-binding consequences for non-compliance, would eventually require an amendment to the Protocol.

Also essential is an agreement on how to measure and account for emissions cuts. There is a need for more rigorous criteria and national systems for estimating net emissions and for reporting and reviewing progress. Of particular importance is the technically complex and politically charged question of how to estimate the removal and storage of carbon from the atmosphere by forests and other natural “sinks”.

Strengthening the contribution of developing countries to addressing climate change will require agreement on a number of outstanding financial and technology issues. Under the Convention, developing countries are to gather and analyze national data, incorporate climate change concerns into national planning, and submit information about all this activity for consideration by the international community.

“The crunch will come in The Hague,” said Michael Zammit Cutajar, Executive Secretary of the UNFCC. “The final results will have to satisfy the major industrial countries, trigger their ratification of the Protocol, and offer incentives to developing countries to take further action in the future. The Bonn conference must build confidence in a successful outcome at The Hague by adopting important technical decisions, sending positive signals to business and industry, and engaging Ministers fully in the task of focusing and speeding up the negotiations.”

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