The countries that attended the second meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Nairobi agreed to review the pact in 2008. The Nov. 17 agreement is a step forward since it was feared that serious conflict between developed and developing countries might torpedo the conference. It is hoped that the review will lay the groundwork for creating a future international mechanism to combat global warming more effectively than Kyoto, but many obstacles remain to be overcome.
The pact, agreed in 1997 but not effective till 2005, requires 35 industrialized countries to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, when the pact expires. But there are inherent weaknesses.
The United States, the No. 1 polluter, accounting for 25 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, saying that remaining with the pact would damage its economy. Developing countries including China, the world’s No. 2 emitter, India and Brazil are not obliged under the pact to reduce emissions. The U.S. and China together account for about 40 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions.
As things stand now, global warming is set to continue. The emissions of many developed countries, including Japan and the U.S., have grown from 1990 levels. Developing nations are likely to start emitting more heat-trapping gases than developed countries in a short time. China is expected to become the No. 1 carbon-dioxide emitter in a few years. Experts warn that to avoid devastating damage from global warming, emissions need to be cut 50 percent or more by 2050. Thus the need for the international community to make sincere efforts to reduce emissions by overcoming differences in opinions and interests.
Under the agreement reached in Nairobi, the Kyoto Protocol member nations will submit to the secretariat by mid-August their opinions on how the pact should be improved with regard to matters such as compliance by developed nations and assistance needed by developing nations to cope with issues related to climate change. After two years of preparation, a conference will be held in 2008 to review the workings of the Kyoto Protocol.
The review will be based on “the best scientific information and assessments” as well as “relevant technical, social and economic information.” In a related move, a network of some 2,000 scientists commissioned by the United Nations will issue their new findings in February on climate changes caused by emissions of greenhouse gases.
It is hoped that the review will pave the way for future negotiations on a new protocol to strengthen the world mechanism to combat global warming, including mandatory emission reductions by developing countries or at least a commitment by them to use energy more efficiently.
The Nairobi agreement was a product of political compromise. Developed nations wanted an early review of Kyoto in the hope that it will lead to a mechanism under which developing nations are persuaded to do more to reduce emissions. They tried to get China and other developing countries to commit to a regimen of emission cutbacks.
Developing countries, on the other hand, tried to delay a review of the pact. They took the view that most global warming thus far has been caused by the past economic activities of developed countries. They sought assistance in dealing with the adverse effects of global warming such as droughts, rising sea levels, and floods. China put up the strongest resistance to writing a schedule for reviewing the Kyoto Protocol. On the last day of the conference, though, China agreed to the review.
Although the agreement makes it clear that the review will not subject developing nations to new mandatory emission cutbacks, the fact that the Kyoto Protocol member nations agreed to review the pact is significant.
As for developing nations’ call for assistance to help them adapt to the adverse effects of global warming, the nations agreed on how to manage a fund for that purpose. The Adaptation Fund will draw on 2 percent of the profits from the clean-development program. Industrialized countries can invest in sustainable development projects designed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in developing countries. Such projects can generate tradable emission credits. Thus the conference produced a system to help support the needs of developing nations.
Barriers to forming a unified front to combat global warming are still high. But the international community should use the momentum from the Nairobi conference to strive for sustainable economic growth. Japan must make sincere efforts to meet the Kyoto Protocol target so that its proposals for fighting global warming will carry weight.
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