Montreal Deal; A huge step forward. Still an enormous way to go!
The largest climate change summit ever held limped to a close in the early hours of 10 December, with a consensus to discuss the period after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 over the coming years and a reluctant agreement from the US to participate in a dialogue on how to combat climate change in the future.
The jury is still out on how the nuanced accords will play out once negotiators sit down as soon as early 2006 to start to hammer out a plan they hope will curb worldwide greenhouse gas emissions enough to slow global warming.
The 13 days of talks in Montreal were unexpectedly dominated by the large rift between Kyoto advocates seeking to move forward on the post-2012 period, and the US and its allies, who drew a hard line against any obligations after 2012.
At one point on 9 December, chief US negotiator Harlan Watson and his aides walked out of the negotiations when delegates moved to include the word “dialogue” in the final communiqué regarding plans to combat climate change in the future.
“If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it's a duck,” Watson said, contending that the word choice implied that countries that participate in those talks could be bound by the conclusion that emerges from them.
The US has maintained that it will not participate in any talks that could lead to binding emissions reduction targets.
But in the end, the word was left in. The US reluctantly agreed to the text, but only under the condition that it also specifically ruled out “negotiations leading to new commitments”.
“The text that was adopted recognizes the diversity of approaches toward confronting climate change,” said Watson, who has advocated voluntary measures and a greater emphasis on technological solutions in lieu of binding emissions cuts.
That diminutive concession from the US came after enormous pressure from many fronts, including Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, who issued an impassioned plea to the US to re-enter the multilateral process, and former US President Bill Clinton who, energized the pro-Kyoto crowd by saying that when it came to his stance on the Kyoto treaty, President George Bush was “flat out wrong”.
That pressure ruffled feathers in Washington.
In a statement, Jim Connaughton, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, said he met with Frank McKenna, Canada’s ambassador in Washington, to express displeasure over Martin’s fiery rhetoric, saying it was an election ploy that could damage relations between the two countries.
The White House, meanwhile, said the appearance by Clinton made the former president, who remains popular in Canada, a political pawn of Martin’s, who is in the midst of a tough battle to retain power in Canada.
In the end, the talks here - which included some 10,000 delegates and observers - may be remembered as the first time since the Bush administration disengaged from the Kyoto process in 2001 that the country’s participation in the multilateral process grew rather than diminished, no matter how subtly.
Aldo Iacomelli, an Italian delegate and the director of the Italian offices of the International Solar Energy Society, told ISN Security Watch.
“It is very significant to have the United States on board, however tentatively,”
“We would have liked to have more [from the US], but I think we can live with what we ended up with, at least for now.”
The UN Secretariat agreed.
a UN spokesman said in an interview after the close of the talks.
“There’s no doubt that it’s better to have the US at the table than it is to have them away from it,”
The official centerpiece to the negotiations is an agreement from the 157 countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol to talk in the future.
Delegates cheered when the agreement was announced around 6:30 a.m. local time, after a full night of negotiations. But it was questionable how valuable the deal will prove to be.
Though the text did not mention specific dates, it did say the strategy for the post-2012 period would look a lot like the current one, with emissions limits and the trading of carbon credits and market mechanisms to reduce emissions.
The agreement broke a deadlock between those who wanted the Kyoto-like structure to continue beyond 2012, and those who advocated new strategies such as reducing the amount of carbon released per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) or focusing on efforts to adapt to climate change rather than to try to reverse it.
Canadian Environment Minister Stéphane Dion, the president of the conference, applauded the decision, saying it amounted to “a map for the future, the Montreal Action Plan, the MAP”.
The next task will be to establish a timetable for those negotiations to begin. And then, the mammoth task of finalizing the emissions caps for the post-2012 period and determining the length of the next commitment period will begin. Given the difficulty of agreeing simply to discuss the topic in the future, those negotiations promise to be challenging.
Another key issue that must be negotiated before the end of 2006 is that of targets for countries not required to reduce emissions under the terms of the Kyoto agreement. Those nations - called the Group of 77, or G-77 - include China, and India, the second and third largest polluters in the world, respectively, behind only the US.
“We need the support of the United States in this process,” Bruno Oberle, a Swiss delegate, told ISN Security Watch. “But for the process to work, we also need the big emerging economies on board.”
Among the other decisions coming out of the talks is a rulebook on compliance: countries that fail to meet their emissions reduction targets in one commitment period will be forced to meet those targets plus a 30 per cent penalty in the following period.
The conference also adopted a five-year work program that will assess climate change impacts and how to help poor countries to adapt to them. A mechanism for funding the adaptation initiatives was also adopted.
A final key topic under discussion was that of technology, where the centerpiece was a fast-evolving technology involving the capture and storage of carbon under ground. Delegates agreed to study the innovative in greater depth in the future.
“Looking back, I think this is one of the most productive climate change conferences ever,” Richard Kinley, acting head of the UN climate change secretariat, said in a statement. “Negotiations were very difficult, but that shouldn’t obscure the fact that a great deal was accomplished here.”
(By Eric J. Lyman in Montreal)