Michael Meacher, UK Environment Minister, and Jurgen Trittin, the German Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature and Reactor Safety, joined forces in an article published in newspapers across Europe and Japan.

“The international community has begun to address the problem of climate change,” said Meacher and Trittin. “Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, industrialised countries signed up to legally binding targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. But since then negotiations about how to implement the Protocol have continued and it has still not entered into force.”

They both called on governments around the globe to show the political will to make decisions at the sixth Conference of Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change at The Hague in November. They also reminded ministers that they will need to prepare for bigger emissions reductions which will be needed in the longer term.

“We must ensure that we do not significantly weaken the Protocol by creating loopholes which might allow some industrialised countries to avoid real domestic action,” they said.

According to the two ministers, the deal in The Hague must comprise a number of key elements:

  • developed countries taking action to reduce emissions;
  • reasonable rules on ‘sinks’;
  • a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) based on safe, sound projects;
  • an effective and strong compliance system.

Though countries have a number of methods at their disposal for reducing emissions if this is done entirely through emissions trading, the ability of nations to meet their targets without reducing their own emissions will take away the credibility of the Protocol, say the two Ministers.

In order to prevent this, EU ministers have proposed a ‘concrete ceiling’ to ensure that developed countries meet at least 50% of their emissions reductions through domestic action. However, countries such as the US, Canada and Japan have refused to negotiate. Meacher and Trittin urge them to reconsider their positions and to make constructive proposals.

There are also problems associated with the use of sinks, such as trees, to reduce carbon, say Meacher and Trittin. “Whereas emission reductions are absolute and for ever, sinks only store carbon temporarily, simply delaying climate change. And there are many uncertainties and risk associated with sinks – forests can die, burn down, or be destroyed by storms, releasing the carbon back into the atmosphere. The recent forest fires in the US illustrate this very clearly.”

Additional activities involving sinks should not be included in the Protocol, say the Ministers, nor should sinks projects be eligible for the CDM. If this goes wrong, emissions could actually increase by 20% instead of the 5% decrease agreed by the Protocol, warn the Ministers.

An effective and strong compliance system could be achieved through the use of tough penalties for developed countries which fail to comply with the Kyoto targets. “Industrialised countries should not be allowed to ‘cheat’ on their commitments,” say Meacher and Trittin.

“Industrialised countries must show leadership by taking domestic action to reduce emissions. We are convinced that measures to tackle climate change are good for our economies, our businesses and our people. We know that significant business opportunities are emerging in a broad range of economic sectors as the need for new climate friendly products and services grows,” said the Ministers.

The UK and German Governments plan to publish their national climate change programmes in October, though both are already implementing measures to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Germany’s CO2 emissions in 1999 were 15.3% lower than in 1990, whilst in the UK, 1998’s greenhouse gas emissions were 8.5% below 1990 levels.

Environmentalists have welcomed the Ministers’ pledge. “Generally, I think it’s very good,” Roger Higman, Friends of the Earth Senior Climate Campaigner told edie. It shows that the leaders of EU countries really do want to lead the world on climate control, observed Higman. Their power to persuade countries such as the US to change their policies of global warming will depend on how the voting public in those countries take the issue to heart, and whether businesses continue to deny the effects of greenhouse gases, explained Higman.

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