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Post-Kyoto climate talks focus on third world

Africa could be hard hit by global warming

(Keystone)

Environment ministers are attending an international climate change conference in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, focusing on the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol.

The two-week summit, which gets underway on Monday, is looking at objectives for reducing greenhouse gases beyond 2012 and measures to help countries adapt to climate change.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, industrialised countries agreed in 1997 to reduce harmful emissions by an average of 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.

The conference comes less than a week after the British government released a hard-hitting report by former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern who warns that failure to act on global warming could cost the global economy trillions of dollars.

The United Nations also issued new data showing an upward trend in emission of greenhouse gases.

"The Stern report is an important contribution to the climate debate," Thomas Kolly, head of the international division at the Federal Environment Office, told swissinfo. "It has raised greater awareness, particularly among the negotiators likely to be in Nairobi, so it will have a positive result."

The meeting follows last December's Montreal conference, where agreement was reached on a road map to extend Kyoto, and informal preparatory talks in Zurich in September.

Cautious

But Kolly, the top Swiss negotiator in Nairobi, remains cautious about any breakthroughs.

"We're unlikely to have any major decisions as it's part of an ongoing process," he said.

"We are continuing the two processes launched in Montreal: to start negotiations on a post-Kyoto regime, and the so-called dialogue, to bring the major players on board."

Environmentalists have repeatedly emphasized that efforts to reverse global warming can only succeed with the cooperation of major countries, including the United States, China and India, as 50 per cent of gas emissions are predicted to come from developing countries from 2015.

"The US made it very clear that they are not part of Kyoto, so I don't expect any changes in Nairobi. But everybody hopes that they will somehow come on board through the dialogue process," said the Swiss negotiator.

According to recent UN figures, industrial countries are still far off their Kyoto targets. The data showed a 2.4 per cent total increase in emissions across 41 industrialised countries between 2000 and 2004. For now the objective of fixing emission targets beyond 2012 remains unrealistic.

"The industrialised countries want to see signs of commitment from emerging countries that they would contribute to the global effort before they present their own reduction figures," explained Kolly.

Adaptation

An important decision to be taken in Nairobi concerns the issue of adaptation – in particular helping developing countries adapt to impacts of climate change. Ministers at the Zurich get-together made promises to do much more for poorer countries.

Under the 1994 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, three special funds were created to support adaptation and technology transfer in developing countries.

But in practice, many poor countries have received next to nothing.

"Money is available – via the adaptation fund – and one big issue in Nairobi will be who manages this fund. The other question is how to generate more money," confirms Kolly.

"[Adaptation] is especially important for Africa," said Alexander Hauri, a climate expert at Greenpeace Switzerland. "This continent has suffered more than any other from the effects of climate change – drought, widespread malaria and rising sea levels."

swissinfo, Simon Bradley

In brief

The Kyoto Protocol, an amendment to the UN Convention on Climate Change, was approved in 1997 and came into force in 2005. It has been ratified by industrialised countries – apart from the US and Australia – and by a large number of developing countries.

The Kyoto Protocol calls for industrialised nations to reduce harmful emissions by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2012.

Switzerland has pledged a 10% reduction in CO2 levels (compared with 1990) by 2010, the equivalent of four million tons of CO2.

The Swiss CO2 law formally took effect in 2000 and foresees additional measures if the targets can't be met with voluntary means.

Last October the authorities agreed to introduce a levy on petrol and diesel on a trial basis, following opposition against a mandatory CO2 emission tax.

Property owners are challenging plans for the CO2 tax on heating oil, arguing instead for a voluntary levy.

In 2004 CO2 emissions stood at 41.4 million tons compared with 41.1 in 1990.

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Key facts

The 12th UN Climate Conference in Nairobi is running from November 6-17.
Some 6,000 delegates and observers from 190 countries are expected to attend the two-week summit.
Swiss Energy Minister Moritz Leuenberger will be present during the last three days of the meeting.
Switzerland was the 110th country to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 2003.

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