UN and experts say possible to implement Kyoto without US, if necessary

The United Nations says it is still possible to implement ratify the treaty on climate change, even if the United States carries out its threat to pull out of the process and a panel of experts has confirmed the feasibility of such a move.

The UN negotiator on climate change, Jan Pronk, made the announcement at an emergency weekend meeting in New York, where 40 international environment ministers had gathered to discuss the future of the Kyoto Protocol in the light of US President Bush’s plan to withdraw from the multilateral treaty (see related story). The revelation gives extra weight to an earlier pledge by Kjell Larsson, Minister for the Environment for Sweden, which is currently holding the EU Presidency that the EU still planned to ratify (see related story) and came hot on the heels of Japanese parliamentary moves to enshrine the Kyoto Protocol into law, giving the announcement added credibility.

Pronk said at the meeting that he was now more optimistic that the Kyoto treaty could be preserved and that no alternative remained but to try to implement the treaty, with or without the co-operation of the US. The meeting agreed a series of compromise proposals to the US which Clinton had supported, including allowing carbon dioxide soaked up by existing forests to be counted towards its target under the treaty, as well as new forests planted in other countries. However, the compromise did not alter one of the US’s main sticking points: that developing nations are exempt from limiting emissions of greenhouse gases from the first round of cuts. Iran said that were the US to withdraw from Kyoto it would be an unprecedented unilateral withdrawal from a multilateral treaty.

The US said that it still planned to go to the next climate change negotiations in Bonn in July with its own proposals, but no detail is available on what they might entail. However, documents leaked from the State Department said the US opposed the treaty under any circumstances and Bush has already said that he will implement nothing which may harm the US economy. Under current trends, the US would have to reduce its production of greenhouse gases by an estimated 30% by 2012.

Meanwhile, at talks on the possibility of Europe ‘going it alone’ on Kyoto, held in London on 25 April, speakers agreed that the EU could effectively implement the treaty with the help of some other nations, as the consent of countries producing 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions is required for ratification. Senior representatives including speakers from the Climate Institute, the UK’s environment ministry and the NGO, WWF, as well as a senior lawyer involved in the formation of the Protocol, agreed that it would take far too long to negotiate a new treaty as the the Kyoto Protocol took almost a decade to achieve, and that with the help of a few significant others like Japan, Canada, Ukraine and Australia Kyoto could be implemented. This would be far preferable, they argued, to being held back by or making further concessions to the US. A recent world trip by an EU delegation seeking backing for the Kyoto Protocol found strong support for process (see related story).

Some delegates were more optimistic about US commitment to climate change than others. Dana Nichols from the UK’s environment ministry, the DETR, said that she very much wanted the US on board and that there was “plenty of scope within the Kyoto framework to sort out these differences”. However, one of the lawyers involved in the development of Kyoto, Farhana Yamin from the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development said that “the US really cannot achieve its targets without fundamental pain it is not ready to take”. In response to US diplomat, Alice Tridball’s statement that American concerns and innovations had been consistently ignored in Kyoto talks, the lawyer said that the US had consistently failed to state what burden of reductions it was actually willing to take and had made no positive suggestions, instead focusing on the inaction of some other nations.

The strongest words came from Robert Napier, the Chief Executive of the WWF in the UK. He rubbished the US governmental position that Kyoto’s implementation would cost the US between 0.1-2% of its GDP, pointing to evidence from a Department of Energy study (see related story) and called on the UK to be the first in Europe to ratify the treaty providing leadership on the climate change issue.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie