Contentious issues remain after climate talks
International talks on climate change held at a conference in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, ended on Friday without having established a solid timetable for cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions after the Kyoto Protocol expires.
This was one of several contentious issues at the negotiations. About 6 000 delegates from around the world attended the November 6 to 17 talks.
Under the 1997 protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 35 industrialised nations are obliged to reduce their combined greenhouse-gas emissions to 5% below 1990 levels, by 2012 -- when the protocol expires. To date, the UNFCCC has been signed by 189 countries, of which 165 have ratified the protocol.
The meeting did resolve to start discussions for reviewing the protocol in 2008, but also fell short of agreeing to a timeframe for conclusion of these discussions. This has come under fire from environmental activists.
"We need things to be laid down clearly. The world is not taking this matter with urgency, and negotiations on this matter have been skewed," Grace Akumu, executive director of Climate Network Africa, a regional NGO, told journalists. She also served as spokesperson for African NGOs attending the Nairobi conference.
Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels and other activities. Many scientists believe increased concentrations of the gases are causing a rise in the Earth's temperature -- which in turn prompts climate change.
Akumu claimed that industrialised countries had manipulated the past fortnight's negotiations.
"They are dishonest ... They do not have Africa 's best interests at heart," she noted. "We need commitment from industrialised nations on when they will reduce their emissions, because Africa is suffering from the impact of climate change, while it is the [smallest] emitter of GHGs [greenhouse gases]."
The United States, which is the largest, accounting for 25% of all emissions, has yet to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. This earned the country heavy criticism at the Nairobi gathering.
The protocol commits US authorities to cut emissions by up to 7%, and was signed during Bill Clinton's administration. But it has been viewed more sceptically by President George Bush -- who claims the protocol will harm the US economy.
"The US is opposed to reduction in global pollution, and needs to catch up with the world in ratifying the protocol," John Stanton, vice-president of the National Environmental Trust -- a Washington-based NGO -- said.
However, American officials claim the most effective way of addressing global warming is through a mix of voluntary partnerships between wealthy and developing nations aimed at spurring economic growth while reducing pollution.
"We will make more progress if our actions to address climate change are integrated into those designed to meet other social and economic goals, including energy access, poverty reduction, energy security and economic growth," Paula Dobriansky, the US Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, said at the meeting.
Concerns at the gathering also focused on China, an ascendant economy that may overtake the US as the leading emitter of carbon dioxide before 2010.
As a developing country, China is not subject to mandatory reductions in its emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. But, civil society organisations attending the conference demanded that a future review of the protocol tackle the issue of rapidly growing economies -- including India and Brazil -- that stand to become significant sources of greenhouse gases.
Poor nations that lack the resources to cope with climate change are expected to be among states hardest-hit by shifting weather patterns, said to result in prolonged drought, recurrent floods and excessive heat, among others.
An adaptation fund is provided for under the Kyoto Protocol to help developing countries deal with climate change. African governments say the $3-million fund is too bureaucratic, and that it has been of greater benefit to Asia and Latin America.
However, the conference resolved to streamline the distribution of the fund to make it more accessible to Africa -- a move welcomed by Kivutha Kibwana, Kenya's Minister of Natural Resources and Environment.
"The conference has delivered on its promise to support the needs of developing countries ... The spirit of the conference has prevailed," he noted.
Still, civil society organisations accused African negotiators at the conference of lacking vigour while lobbying for initiatives and issues affecting the continent -- including the creation of a special adaptation fund for Africa. The groups argue that the continent needs its own fund, as it is at greatest risk from climate change.
"Africa should consider that it did not perform, because none of its interests was met. African leaders got zero out of 10, if I was to rate their performance at the meeting. There is nothing we are taking home with us for the citizens of Africa," Akumu remarked.
The next round of international climate change talks is expected to be held in Bali, Indonesia, next year.