Compromise saves climate treaty

The deal was a relief to campaigners in Bonn

BBC News, January 23, 2008

By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby in Bonn

In an historic deal, 178 countries have agreed how to tackle climate change.

The compromise reached after a day and a night of intensive talks in Bonn means the Kyoto Protocol, the global climate treaty, can soon enter into force.

European Union Environment Commissioner, Margot Wallstrom, said: "I think we can now go home and look our children in the eye."

The conference president, Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk, received several standing ovations during the emotional final session.

The last hurdle had been Japan's objection to the wording of some clauses designed to ensure that countries comply with the protocol. But that was modified, and Japan's reservations melted away.

Watered down

The deal the delegates struck was to accept a draft proposal put forward by Mr Pronk late on Saturday.

It waters down considerably the provisions of the protocol as originally agreed four years ago.

Kyoto required industrialised countries to cut their emissions of six gases believed to be exacerbating global warming by an average of 5.2% below their 1990 levels over the next 11 years.

US opposition

The Bonn agreement, conservationists say, will reduce that 5.2% figure to about 2%. Ms Wallstrom said the deal had serious gaps.

She said: "We've managed to rescue the Kyoto Protocol. We can now start the ratification process, and countries can start to take action on climate change.

"We have lots of criticisms to make, but we are willing to live with this compromise. It is a very important start."

The US has repudiated the protocol, with President George W Bush saying he will not ratify a "fatally flawed" treaty.

However, Paula Dobriansky, the head of the US delegation, said to heckles from delegates for environmental groups: "The Bush administration takes the issue of climate change very seriously and we will not abnegate our responsibility."

Contentious issue

One contentious part of the compromise is the freedom it gives to countries to meet some of their pollution reduction targets by using "carbon sinks" - trees and other vegetation, which absorb carbon.

This means they can make smaller and more electorally acceptable cuts in emissions from industry and transport.

Olivier Deleuze, head of the EU delegation and Belgian energy minister, said: "We would have preferred to have fewer sinks in the deal, for instance.

"I could give you 10 examples of changes I'd like to have seen. But I prefer an imperfect, living agreement to a perfect one that doesn't exist."

Deal welcomed

Campaign groups have welcomed the deal with reservations.

Kate Hampton, of Friends of the Earth, said: "The Kyoto Protocol is still alive. That is a triumph for citizens all over the world.

"It is also a political disaster for President Bush. But the price of success has been high: the protocol has been heavily diluted, its effect on the climate has been massively eroded."

'Giant leap'

WWF said the agreement "provides sound architecture for the protocol", calling it "a giant leap for humanity".

Greenpeace said: "The Kyoto Protocol can and should be the spark that sets off the coming green revolution, leading to a world where the energy we use is both clean and renewable."

The head of the UK delegation, the Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett, said: "We came here very much fearing failure. We now have agreement, we have a deal, we have focus."

The UK Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, said: "It's a brilliant day for the environment.

"It's a huge leap to have achieved a result on this very complex international negotiation."

With the protocol's practical details at last finalised, the way is open for countries to ratify it.

Japan's support is crucial, because with the US now out of the running the protocol can enter into force only if it is ratified by the big polluters - the EU, eastern Europe, Russia and Japan.

All now seem certain to ratify. But many climate scientists say the world will need to cut its carbon emissions, not by 5%, let alone today's 2%, but by more than half during this century.

The Bonn agreement is certainly historic. In its present form, though, it is more of a symbol than a battle cry.

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