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Swiss hold out hope despite climate deadlock

Pedal or paddle? Climate experts aim to agree on measures to minimise extreme conditions such as these, in eastern Switzerland Keystone

A Swiss delegate at an international climate change conference has noted "elements of optimism" despite continuing intransigence from the United States.

This content was published on May 19, 2007 - 11:23

Deadlock over how to bring the US and big developing nations such as China and India to the climate negotiating table has frustrated the United Nations-hosted meeting, intended to lay the groundwork for UN climate talks in Indonesia in December.

"We have to be positive on these matters," José Romero from the Federal Environment Office told swissinfo.

"I think we have achieved a lot already – since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC] was adopted in Rio [in 1992] there has been incredible action. Climate issues have become part of the business plan in many companies, not to say in all governments."

Romero was speaking as parties to the UNFCCC from 166 nations concluded almost two weeks of negotiations in Bonn, Germany.

In the second week, representatives took part in the third session of the "Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol" (AWG).

The AWG, which comprises all 172 parties to the Kyoto Protocol, including Switzerland, is the body responsible for negotiating industrialised countries' emission reduction targets for the next commitment period of the UN treaty beyond 2012.

Target rejection

"Worldwide there is recognition that the issue is very serious," Romero said. "And the fact that all governments around the world are party to the convention demonstrates their willingness to undertake action."

Nevertheless, despite recent UN reports ringing alarm bells on global warming, the US and Japan saw little prospect for launching formal talks in Indonesia to extend and strengthen the Kyoto Protocol on global warming after 2012.

Germany already wants G8 countries at a meeting it hosts in June to agree to halve climate-warming carbon emissions by 2050 and promote carbon trading as a way to penalise greenhouse gas emissions.

But on Thursday Harlan Watson, the main US climate negotiator, rejected the greenhouse gas emissions target, saying "a long-term target is a political not a scientific objective", adding that "it's important not to jeopardise economic growth".

"Elements of optimism"

Romero is more hopeful for a solution than the Japanese chief climate negotiator, who described himself as "really, really pessimistic" on the chances of getting China and the US to the negotiating table.

"One lesson we have learnt from this process is that the cost of reducing emissions is probably not so big," Romero said.

"The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report said the burden that the Kyoto Protocol would put on developed economies estimated in the previous IPCC report was exaggerated compared with what we have noted so far. So there are elements of optimism there."

Romero believed countries "have to analyse by themselves their potential for reducing their emissions while keeping a high degree of economic development" since they know better than others where the potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is and how cost-effective measures can be established.

He added that the "interaction between the most powerful countries in the world" reflected the importance of climate change – "and when you start looking for solutions you eventually find some of them. We just need more work, more analysis and more goodwill".

swissinfo, Thomas Stephens

Key facts

The third session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG) was held from May 14-18 in Bonn, Germany.
Annex I countries are industrialised countries, including Switzerland, which agree to reduce their emissions (particularly carbon dioxide) to target levels below their 1990 emissions levels. If they cannot do so, they must buy emission credits or invest in conservation.
Annex II countries are developed countries which pay for costs of developing countries. The third group of signatories to the UNFCCC are developing countries.
The first session of the AWG was held in Bonn from May 17-25, 2006. The second session of the AWG was held in Nairobi from November 6-14, 2006.

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UNFCCC

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty produced at the UN Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The treaty is aimed at reducing emissions of greenhouse gas in order to combat global warming.

The Kyoto Protocol, an amendment to the UNFCCC, was approved in 1997 and came into force in 2005. It has been ratified by industrialised countries – apart from the United States and Australia – and by a large number of developing countries.

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

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

On November 8, 2006 the government declared that Switzerland had met its formal requirements under the Kyoto Protocol so that it would reduce its greenhouse gases by eight per cent below the 1990 level – or a maximum of 242.85 million tons of CO2 – between 2008 and 2012.

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