Predictable outcome for Montreal as progress is made but US stands firm

Europe and its allies will continue plugging away at Kyoto-style agreements, the US will continue to carve its own technology-led path and for once the poor look set to be the real winners as billions are set to be funnelled into sustainable energy projects in the developing world.

This seems to be the likely outcome of the UN talks on climate change, which draw to a close in Montreal today.

Behind the mudslinging – and there has been plenty, with the USA assigned its traditional role as the world’s number one climate criminal and Saudi Arabia condemned as ‘the real villain of the piece’ by outspoken minister Elliott Morley for its attempts to throw an administrative spanner in the works – delegates have tried to agree a way forward.

Efforts to reach an accord have not been helped by the USA sticking to its guns and telling the world it was happy with its much-criticised position of refusing to sign up to any mandatory carbon targets and instead investing in the development of ‘clean’ technology.

“One size does not fit all,” Paula Dobriansky, leader of the American delegation, told the talks on Wednesday.

Progress looks set to be made on the Kyoto Protocol, with the compliance system agreed and signatories accepting that if they miss their targets they must make up the shortfall, plus a 30% extra as a penalty, during the next period.

In what has been seen as a failed attempt to stall Kyoto, oil state Saudi Arabia proposed the system be written into the national laws of each participating country, a process which could have taken years and delayed progress.

The proposal was not accepted.

Europe has, of course, been flying the flag for a targets-based solution arguing the EU has demonstrated that you can cut carbon emissions while continuing economic growth.

“This approach works,” said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

He lamented America’s decision to dig in its heals.

“Climate change is a global threat that requires a global response,” said the commissioner.

“Citizens around the world expect us to be able to agree here in Montreal what we need to do to limit this threat.

“Recent US opinion polls find that around 75% of American citizens are concerned about climate change. This week, the number of US mayors who have decided to implement the 7% cut in greenhouse gas emissions that the US would have had to reach under the Kyoto Protocol in their cities and towns has reached 192 representing 40 million Americans.

“The fight against climate change requires a multilateral approach based on the Convention principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

“In the EU, we are implementing this approach. Developed countries are collectively responsible for the gradual accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“Therefore, we fully accept our responsibility that, as developed countries, we need to take the lead. We have implemented more than 30 measures under the European Climate Change Programme, which are starting to deliver results.”

But the talks will most likely be remembered for failing to come up with a post-Kyoto solution – the agreement runs out in seven years – and perhaps for the glimmer of hope offered to the developing world.

The Clean Development Mechanism allows wealthy countries to invest in renewable energy projects in nations who are not Kyoto signatories and claim carbon credits back home.

The system has become tangled in red tape and ineffectual, but negotiators at Montreal have streamlined the CDM and given assurances that it will continue beyond 2012 when the first phase of Kyoto comes to a close.

Nations have been urged to dramatically increase their funding to improve the administration of the scheme which, if running smoothly, could be expected to invest US$100 billion in projects around the world from plans for hydro in Honduras and Chinese wind turbines to innovative biomass plants in Brazil and India making use of agricultural waste – sugar cane mash and rice husks.

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Louise Fréchette, used the conference to call for bold, creative global action on climate change.

“The science is solid. The threat is clear. Yet our response is failing to meet the challenge,” she said.

“This is science, not science fiction,” she added referring to the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Their authoritative assessment suggests that climate change is happening, that human activities are among the main contributing factors, and that we cannot wait any longer to take action.

“Indeed, the longer we wait, the higher the costs.”

By Sam Bond

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