U.S. Returns to Dialogue on Climate Change
By Marcela Valente*
The United States and the OPEC countries agreed to participate in a May 2005 seminar on climate change, but they reject new negotiations.
''It's a positive step,'' says Raúl Estrada Oyuela, who proposed the face-saving meeting, approved at the close of the 10th Conference on Climate Change, in Buenos Aires.
BUENOS AIRES - The United States, world leader in emissions of ''greenhouse'' gases, will return to the table for international talks on climate change, a dialogue it abandoned three years ago.
But the meeting will take place as a consultative seminar only, and will not pave the way for a new set of multilateral negotiations.
The 10th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-10) ended Saturday, a day later than scheduled, in Buenos Aires, with the approval of the Argentine initiative to hold a seminar of governmental experts in 2005 to ''exchange information'' about ways to fight global climate change.
''Proceedings of the seminar will be made available by the secretariat to Parties for their consideration, bearing in mind that this seminar does not open any negotiations leading to new commitments,'' states the text that was approved after 13 days of deliberations amongst delegates from more than 180 countries and from observer organizations.
''The United States has a very clear position,'' Raúl Estrada Oyuela, author of the proposal for the 2005 seminar, said as the conference came to an end. ''They don't believe in the Kyoto Protocol, but agreed to participate in an exercise of information exchange, and I think that is a positive step.''
In 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush withdrew his country's signature from the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 treaty obligating the industrialized countries to curb their greenhouse gas emissions -- which are responsible for global warming -- to below their 1990 levels, during a period running from 2008 to 2012.
The idea to hold an additional seminar, heartily supported by the European Union and most of the developing countries, originally called for two meetings during 2005, but the final resolution was limited to just one meeting, to take place in May, in Bonn, Germany.
The proposal met with resistance from the United States and from some of the members of the Group of 77 (G77) developing nations, plus China, and in particular from India.
Also voicing opposition was OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), which refused to speed up the discussion of a second period of emissions-curbing commitments to begin in 2012 -- when the Kyoto Protocol expires.
India proposed including in the agreement a paragraph that would explicitly establish that the seminar would not lead to future commitments for developing countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Developing countries are not subject to emissions abatement commitments under the Kyoto pact.
The EU and Argentina considered the addition redundant, but India's proposal was backed by several developing countries and triggered a prolonged debate that lasted beyond the scheduled close of COP-10 -- Dec. 17 -- until an agreement was reached that satisfied all parties.
The position of Washington and of the OPEC nations, particularly Saudi Arabia, came under fire in Buenos Aires from a group of environmental organizations that are part of the international Climate Action Network.
The Network awarded its ''Fossil of the Day'' throughout the conference to the country that had contributed least to the process of curbing climate change. The ironic prize refers to the fact that fossil fuels are a leading source of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.
The final "Fossils" went to the United States and Saudi Arabia. Climate Action Network's website states: ''The Bush Administration and Saudi Arabia have worked hand in hand over the last two weeks to undermine any progress to curb global warming.''
The activists said the U.S. and Saudi position was ''immoral'', because it blocked poor countries from getting much needed support for adaptation to climate change. Washington and Riyadh argued that the eventual decline in fossil fuel purchases would hurt the economies of the petroleum exporting countries.
That stance prevented the G77 from bringing a unified position before the industrialized countries to obtain a bigger increase in financial resources for adaptation.
COP-10 ended with the adoption of the ''Buenos Aires Program of Work on Adaptation and Response Measures'', a long list of actions to help developing countries prepare themselves for confronting climate changes -- but not enough funding was pledged to ensure implementation.
As the conference began on Dec. 6, the EU announced its pledge to increase annual adaptation funding from 100 million to 420 million dollars, but at the close of the meeting there were no new commitments. Nor was there progress towards the creation of a special fund for adaptation efforts in what the United Nations has designated as ''least developed countries''.
The pledged funding is ''very inadequate,'' Jennifer Morgan, of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), told Tierramérica. She said there are countries that have already suffered the severe impacts of flooding, drought and hurricanes with losses costing much more than the EU's proposed 420 million dollars.
Natural disasters -- which experts agree may have been intensified by climate change -- cost the international insurance industry more than 35 billion dollars in 2004, twice the sum for 2003, according to figures from insurance company Munich Re, distributed during COP-10 by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
''Industrialized countries, the leading greenhouse gas producers, bear the greatest responsibility in mitigating climate change and also in transferring resources and technologies to developing countries'' so that they can adapt to it, Ricardo Sánchez, UNEP director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said in a conversation with Tierramérica.
Hurricane Mitch caused 8.5 million dollars in damages in Central America, Belize lost 75 percent of its forests due to a plague of southern pine beetles, and glaciers are melting in the Andes Mountains -- these are just some of the phenomena the region has faced in recent years that are related to climate change, according to UNEP.
Latin America and the Caribbean ''have a high degree of vulnerability. If we have to dedicate the limited resources of our countries to deal with these impacts (of climate change), it will be very difficult to achieve sustainable development,'' Sánchez said.
* Marcela Valente is an IPS correspondent.