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Cold comfort on Kyoto

Climate worriers are not yet walking the talk

Business Standard  |  New Delhi 

The clarification by a United Nations’ climate change official that the Kyoto protocol will continue even after 2012, when its scheduled emission reduction commitment period ends, provides only cold comfort. Unless there are fresh binding commitments for reduction in the emission of environment-injurious greenhouse gases (GHGs), the continuation of the toothless Kyoto accord will be pointless. In any case, even the action stipulated in the Kyoto accord for combating global warming fell far short of putting an end to global warming, though it was deemed a good beginning towards that end. Sadly, even the modest GHG reduction targets set for the developed countries under the Kyoto pact are unlikely to be fully met. This apart, the carbon market-based clean development mechanism (CDM) launched under the Kyoto protocol has also been found to suffer from several imperfections. It, thus, needs to be either suitably modified or replaced with another better-conceived one. Its key objectives of lowering the overall carbon footprint of the environment and spurring cleaner development in developing countries have remained, by and large, ill-served. By allowing the industrialised countries to meet emission-slashing goals by buying carbon credits from GHG-reduction projects in other countries, it has let them get away without actually cutting down their emissions. Worse still, some of the key claimers of carbon credits in countries like China and India, which together account for 80 per cent of the carbon credits supply, face the accusation that they deliberately produce more than needed amounts of GHG, notably hydro-fluorocarbons like HFC-23 used in refrigeration, in order to burn it to earn carbon credits.

It is, therefore, imperative to thrash out a new global climate change agreement to succeed the Kyoto pact, instead of either taking the Kyoto protocol forward or merely putting it in a different mould.

This, unfortunately, does not seem to be happening. Differences remain between rich and poor countries on shouldering the responsibilities for curbing global heating. The failure of Copenhagen to provide a road beyond Kyoto has also not helped. Though Copenhagen laid down only a non-binding, minimalist goal for countries to take suitable action that would help limit the increase in global temperature to below 2°C, its proposal to create a green fund to finance clean projects in the poor countries has still not made much headway. It is still uncertain whether donor countries will meet their commitment to provide $30 billion in next three years for this purpose. No contribution worth the name has so far been made. If the next climate conference, scheduled for November in Cancun, manages to get donors to cough up what they promised for this year, it can be judged a success.

First Published: Fri, September 17 2010. 00:41 IST
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