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COP-7: Widening the Loopholes

The latest round of climate talks in Marrakech in November aimed to clarify details about the use of flexible mechanisms in the implementation of the Protocol. Given that pro-Kyoto parties are keen to have the Protocol ratified before the Rio +10 summit in Johannesburg next September, this effectively meant that the meeting was geared towards keeping the least progressive countries (organised in the so-called Umbrella group) happy and willing to ratify.[1] Kevin Smith reports.

t is uncertain whether Canada is in or out, but it looks likely that the newly re-elected Howard government will keep Australia from ratifying despite the enormous concessions that have been granted in previous COPs. This leaves the EU depending on the cooperation of Russia and Japan for Kyoto to come into force, with these three parties representing the requisite 55% of Annex I countries' greenhouse gas emissions.[2] The most blatant and unjustified blackmail in this context was the demand made by Russia to almost double the amount of CO2 they could gain credit for storing in forest sinks. During COP-6.5 in Bonn, parties were given limits on the sink tonnage they could claim for forest management, but the Russian negotiators claimed to have made some unspecified mistake at that time, which needed to be rectified in Marrakech. The collapse of its economy in the the last decade created a situation in which Russia has already more than achieved its targets to stabilise emissions at 1990 levels by the first commitment period (2008-2012). This means that, even before the increase in its sinks claim, Russia stands to profit enormously from the sale of its 'hot air' (the amount by which its emission levels have been reduced further than its target levels) to other countries that can afford to buy it and keep polluting. The concession was initially rejected by the EU, but they eventually capitulated under pressure to have some sort of ratifiable agreement to present by the end of the conference. Russia's precedent may pave the way for China and India to demand a similar increase in their sinks allowance in the future.

Under the laws of supply and demand, such an increase in the amount of carbon credits available to buy on the global market is inevitably going to push the price of credits down, meaning that it will be even cheaper for the richer countries to buy their way out of their responsibilities to reduce emissions. This incident illustrates the absurdity of the negotiations -with the arbitrary change of a single figure under pressure to save the protocol, a situation is created where a vast sum of cheap, extra permits to pollute are created without any corresponding extra measure to abate the climate crisis in real terms. This is all on the basis of extremely dubious science that presumes that it is possible to quantify the amount of carbon sequestered in such sinks and offset it against industrial emissions. Agencies like the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis have stated, "our current level of knowledge regarding the biosphere is such that it cannot form the basis for any trading scheme."[3]

Compliance was also a hotly debated issue during the conference. It was agreed that a country exceeding its emissions quota in the first commitment period will be required to compensate with cuts plus a 30% penalty in the next period. It will also be barred from taking part in the emissions trading market until it is back in compliance. However the decision on the legal nature of the compliance regime was deferred until the first meeting of Kyoto Parties following the treaty's entry into force.

The conference appointed a Clean Development Mechanism Executive Board. This is authorised to develop and maintain the process of the Mechanism (the structure through which Northern Governments and corporations can buy emission rights through investing in projects in the South). There was a strong push by the Umbrella Group to remove the component of public participation and consultation from the development of CDM projects (one of the outcomes of the Bonn meeting), but they eventually backed down on the last night of negotiations. This was another common strategy in the conference. By making a completely unwarranted and unreasonable demand early on, parties like the Umbrella group could gain the concessions that they really want at the crucial stages of the talks through bargaining in exchange for dropping their more outrageous and obstructive demands.

What was conspicuously absent from the talks was any serious discussion of the issues that affect countries in the global South, such as funds to help them meet the costs of the reporting requirements of the treaty and to adapt to the climate change already affecting them. There was also unaddressed concern about the access of these countries to advanced energy technology at prices that they could afford.

Outside the Conference

A network of some 42 largely unaccredited Moroccan NGOs gathered in Marrakech to discuss the issues surrounding climate change. REMED (Le Réseau Marocain pour l'Environnement et le Développement Durable) is made up of diverse environmental and social NGOs from around the country who have formed one of the first networks of this kind in Morocco. They created a political statement on climate change (an English translation of which can be found at http://www.remed. cjb. net) that draws attention to the links between economic globalisation and environmental degradation and the inadequacy of the international community's response to the climate crisis. They named their statement 'Ourika's Call' after a valley in the Atlas mountains adjacent to Marrakech, in which hundreds of people were killed in flash floods in 1995 following extreme weather conditions.

While the Moroccan government was happy for people from all over the world to convene in Marrakech and discuss the Kyoto Protocol, it was far less enthusiastic about its own civil society doing the same. REMED endured fairly constant police harassment for the duration of the conference. After they had been denied permission to hold some form of demonstration outside the conference, the police put pressure on the hotel owner to remove them from the room where they were meeting, and they were made to take down their climate change banners. There were reports of under-cover police acting as fellow guests in the hotel, and a constant, intimidatory police presence (at one stage including 4 police vans and a number of cars) was maintained outside of the hotel.

Monitoring Climate Fraud

With the completion of talks in Marrakech, ratification of the Kyoto Protocol is on our doorstep -and for many communities, especially in the South, this may bring largescale tree plantations and other dubious projects in the name of climate change mitigation. Thus there is an urgent need to inform local communities about their rights to information and meaningful participation in the development of projects expecting to claim carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol. It is essential to ensure NGO networks are aware of projects with potentially negative impacts on communities and the environment and can act to prevent them before the damage is done.

To facilitate the exchange of information on future projects within the Clean Development Mechanism, NGOs have launched two initiatives -Sinks Watch and CDM Watch to develop local groups' capacity to monitor the situation and alert networks to potential negative impacts. CDM Watch will primarily aim to inform local communities about their rights to information about such projects, and their right to participation in their design, while the aim of Sinks Watch will be to identify and document early sinks projects, especially large-scale tree plantations and to highlight their negative social, environmental and climatic impacts. Start-up discussions for both initiatives were held in Marrakech and will continue over the winter, assessing the needs of local communities, researching new sinks projects and looking at funding sources to do the work.

Further information on Sinks Watch, Jutta Kill, Fern jutta@gn.apc.org for CDM Watch, Ben Pearson, benhillarypearson@hotmail.com

Plans are also afoot to develop a similar research/ resource based initiative called Carbon Trade Watch that will monitor the machinations of the emerging market in greenhouse gases (GHGs) trading. If you would like more information or have materials that you would like to contribute, contact Adam Ma'anit adam@corporateeurope.org


1: The umbrella group consists of the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada, Russia and Norway. This grouping has pushed for the unlimited use of the market based mechanisms and reduced emissions targets.   | Back to Text |

2: The Annex I countries are those industrialised nations that have agreed to make cuts in their GHG emissions in the first commitment period.   | Back to Text |

3: Jonas, M., Nilsson, S., Obersteiner, M et al., "Verification Times Underlying the Kyoto Protocol: Global Benchmark Calculations", Interim Report IR-99-062, IIASA, http://www.iiasa.ac.at     | Back to Text |

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