The Kyoto treaty against global warming came into force today with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan urging the world to save the planet by adding to the limits on greenhouse gases and the UN environment chief stressing that many in the United States, the world’s top polluter, support the protocol despite the US Government’s opposition.
Under the Kyoto Protocol to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), industrialized countries are to reduce their combined emissions of six major greenhouse gases during the five-year period from 2008 to 2012 to below 1990 levels. So far 140 countries have ratified the accord.
The European Union and Japan, for example, are to cut these emissions by 8 per cent and 6 per cent respectively. For many countries, achieving the Kyoto targets will be a major change that will require new policies and new approaches.
“By itself, the Protocol will not save humanity from the dangers of climate change,” Mr. Annan said in a video message to a celebratory ceremony in the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto, where it was negotiated in 1997. “So let us celebrate today, but let us not be complacent.
“I call on the world community to be bold, to adhere to the Kyoto Protocol, and to act quickly in taking the next steps. There is no time to lose,” he added.
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Joke Waller-Hunter, in the keynote address, pointed to indications of climate change just in the past seven years. “Changes to polar ice, glaciers and rainfall regimes have already occurred,” she said. “We see an increasing number of extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods and hurricanes. While more research is needed, these alarming signals confirmed by the scientific community keep climate change high on the political and business agendas in many countries.”
UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Klaus Toepfer took to task those who claim that the Protocol “is more dead than alive” without the United States, which accounts for about 24 per cent of global fossil fuel-related carbon dioxide emissions, about twice those of China, the world’s second largest emitter, according to figures from the US Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center.
“While the Government of the United States has decided against the Kyoto treaty, many individual states in America are adopting or planning to adopt greenhouse gas reductions in line with the spirit of the Protocol,” he said in a message.
“Many businesses there are also active and keen to join the new emission trading schemes and markets opening up. The Government itself is also promoting higher energy efficiency and alternatives like hydrogen and solar,” he added.
But he, too, echoed Mr. Annan’s call to do more. “We must act swift and sure to go beyond Kyoto,” he said. “We must put the planet on course for the up to 60 per cent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions needed to conserve the climate.”
After President George W. Bush withdrew US support for the Protocol in 2001, Russian ratification became vital for it to enter into force since 55 Parties to the UNFCCC must ratify it, including the developed countries whose combined 1990 emissions of carbon dioxide exceed 55 per cent of that group’s total. Russia, with 17 per cent, took the official step in November, pushing the amount beyond the threshold and setting the clock ticking for today’s entry into force.
Mr. Toepfer drew a “terrifying” picture of the impact of global warming drawn from recent reports, “a vision of a planet spinning out of control.”
He noted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the scientific body which advises governments and which was established by UNEP and the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO), concluded a few years ago that global temperatures may rise by as much as 5.8 degrees centigrade by 2100 without action.
Another report, launched a few weeks ago by the International Climate Change Task Force, an alliance of three think-tanks in the US, Australia and Britain, argues that even a two-degree rise could take the planet past a point of “no return,” he added.
“I certainly hope that these new calculations are proven wrong,” he said. “However, it seems that many of the past theoretical forecasts are sadly coming to pass.”
Meanwhile, the UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, Anwarul K. Chowdhury, pointed out the adverse effects that climate change and sea level rise present to the sustainable development of small island developing states.
“Never before has the negative impact of climate change been more evident than the recent devastating weather conditions resulting in widespread hurricanes, cyclones, tropical storms, tidal waves, tsunamis in various parts of the world, particularly affecting small island developing states. These small countries are the most vulnerable to global climate change,” he stressed.