POSTED: 13 DECEMBER 2005 - 7:30am HST

Montreal Climate Conference concludes

Global Warming Bush- Time Inc man of the year? in the

America's Shame in Montreal
Editorial on 13 December 2005 in The New York Times

The best that can be said of the recently concluded meeting on climate change in Montreal is that the countries that care about global warming did not allow the United States delegation to blow the whole conference to smithereens. Washington was intent on making sure that the conferees required no more of the United States than what it is already doing to restrain greenhouse gas emissions, which amounts to virtually nothing.

At least the Americans' shameful foot-dragging did not bring the entire process to a complete halt, and for this the other industrialized countries, chiefly Britain and Canada, deserve considerable praise. It cannot be easy for America's competitors to move forward with costly steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while the United States refuses to carry its share of the load. Nevertheless, the Europeans and other signatories to the 1997 treaty limiting greenhouse gas emissions - a treaty the Bush administration has rejected - promised to work toward new and more ambitious targets and timetables when the agreement lapses in 2012.

For its part, the Bush administration deserves only censure. No one expected a miraculous conversion. But given the steadily mounting evidence of the present and potential consequences of climate change - disappearing glaciers, melting Arctic ice caps, dying coral reefs, threatened coastlines, increasingly violent hurricanes - one would surely have expected America's negotiators to arrive in Montreal willing to discuss alternatives.

They did not. Instead, the principal negotiators, Paula Dobriansky and Harlan Watson, continued to tout the benefits of an approach that combines voluntary reductions by individual companies with further research into "breakthrough" technologies.

That will not work. While a few companies may decide to proceed on their own, the private sector as a whole will neither create new technologies nor broadly deploy them unless all countries are required to do their share under a regime that combines agreed-upon targets with strong financial incentives for reaching them. To believe that companies will spend heavily to reduce emissions while their competitors are not doing the same is to believe in the tooth fairy.

The Europeans are finding solace in the fact that the Americans - after much kicking and screaming, and after public rebukes by Canada's prime minister and a surprise visitor named Bill Clinton - finally agreed to join informal "nonbinding" discussions that will try to entice developing countries like China and India into the process. It's certainly true that without the developing nations on board, any effort to keep greenhouses gases at manageable levels will be for naught. China, for example, is building coal-fired power plants at a rapid clip and is expected to overtake the United States as the biggest producer of greenhouse gases in 20 years.

But talk is cheap, and nonbinding talk is even cheaper. And talk alone will not get the developing world into the game. Why should India and China make major sacrifices while the United States, in effect, gets a free ride? The battle against global warming will never be won unless America joins it, urgently and enthusiastically. Our grandchildren will look back with anger and astonishment if we fail to do so.



Global Warming in the Pacific

8 December 2005 - 10:30am

Pita Meanke, of Betio village watches the "king tides" crash through the sea wall on the island of Kiribati

Pacific islanders move to escape global warming
by Alister Doyle on 6 December 2005 for Reuters

Rising seas have forced 100 people on a Pacific island to move to higher ground in what may be the first example of a village formally displaced because of modern global warming, a U.N. report said on Monday.

With coconut palms on the coast already standing in water, inhabitants in the Lateu settlement on Tegua island in Vanuatu started dismantling their wooden homes in August and moved about 600 yards (meters) inland.

"They could no longer live on the coast," Taito Nakalevu, a climate change expert at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, told Reuters during a 189-nation conference in Montreal on ways to fight climate change.
So-called "king tides," often whipped up by cyclones, had become stronger in recent years and made Lateu uninhabitable by flooding the village 4 to 5 times a year. "We are seeing king tides across the region flooding islands," he said.
The U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a statement that the Lateu settlement "has become one of, if not the first, to be formally moved out of harm's way as a result of climate change."

The scientific panel that advises the United Nations projects that seas could rise by almost 3 feet (a meter) by 2100 because of melting icecaps and warming linked to a build-up of heat-trapping gases emitted by burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and autos.

Many other coastal communities are vulnerable to rising seas, such as the U.S. city of New Orleans, the Italian city of Venice or settlements in the Arctic where a thawing of sea ice has exposed coasts to erosion by the waves.

Pacific Islanders, many living on coral atolls, are among those most at risk. Off Papua New Guinea, about 2,000 people on the Cantaret Islands are planning to move to nearby Bougainville island, four hours' boat ride to the southwest.
Two uninhabited Kiribati islands, Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea, disappeared underwater in 1999.

"In Tegua, the dwellings are moving first. The chief has moved, he has to start the process, so his people are now following," Nakalevu said. A church would also be dismantled and moved inland.

Nakalevu said the rising seas seemed linked to climate change. It was unknown if the coral base of the island, about 12 square miles, might be subsiding. Most villagers rely on yams, beans and other crops grown on higher ground.

To help Lateu, Canada had provided $50,000 to build a system to collect and store up to 9,500 gallons (36,000 liters) of rain water to break dependence on springs by the coast.

In the Arctic, indigenous peoples in Shishmaref in Alaska and in Tuktoyaktuk in Canada were considering moving because of climate change, U.N. officials said.
"The peoples of the Arctic and the small islands of this world face many of the same threats," Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's executive director, said in a statement.
"The melting and receding of sea ice and the rising of sea levels, storms surges and the like are the first manifestations of big changes underway which eventually will touch everyone on the planet," he said.



Montreal Climate Conference underway

4 December 2005 - 6:30pm

Activists Gather for Climate Change Marches
By Phil Couvrette 3 December 2005 Associated Press

The Arctic Inuit who are losing their ice caps and activists demanding urgent action on global warming were among thousands taking to the streets in cities around the world Saturday to raise awareness of climate change.

The demonstrations coincided with the 10-day U.N. Climate Change Conference under way in Montreal to review and update the Kyoto Protocol, the global accord that binds the top 35 industrialized nations to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
A march in downtown Montreal was to be the largest of the demonstrations expected in 32 countries, including Japan, Germany, France, Bangladesh, Brazil, Australia and South Africa.

In London, protesters passed Downing Street, home of Prime Minister Tony Blair, where they handed in a letter demanding that the government reaffirm its commitment to Kyoto with legally binding targets on emissions reductions.
In Washington, drivers of hybrid cars planned to rally around the White House. In New Orleans, residents intend to hold a "Save New Orleans, Stop Global Warming" party in the French Quarter. Other U.S. events were being held from Boston to Los Angeles.

In Montreal, activists promised a family friendly atmosphere with hot air balloons, theatrical and music acts as they hit the streets in numbers they hope will top 15,000.

"We're worried about climate change, about ways of life in the Canadian Arctic disappearing," said Sarah Binder of Montreal's Urban Ecology Center.
Five environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the Climate Crisis Coalition, delivered a petition signed by 600,000 Americans to the U.S. Consulate in Montreal urging the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress to help slow global warming.

About 100 protesters gathered outside in freezing temperatures to listen to speeches.

"We are here representing the people of the United States who want action to be taken," said Ted Glick of the Climate Crises Coalition, who accused the U.S. delegation of trying to obstruct progress at the conference.

U.S. President George W. Bush has been widely criticized for pulling out of the Kyoto Treaty, instead calling for an 18 percent reduction in the U.S. growth rate of greenhouse gases by 2012 and committing US$5 billion (euro4.27 billion) a year to global warming science and technology.

The United States — which spews out nearly 25 percent of the world's carbon emissions — was the target of demonstrations.

"If he (Bush) thinks (Hurricane) Katrina was bad, there are a lot worse hurricanes on their way if he doesn't change his policy," Britain's former Environment Minister Michael Meacher told demonstrators outside the U.S. embassy in London.
Organizers said 10,000 people participated in the march from Lincoln's Inn in central London to the U.S. Embassy. Police said about 4,300 took part.

Chanting and blowing whistles, the marchers denounced Blair and Bush for their perceived environmental failings. Some held banners depicting Bush as "Wanted — for crimes against the planet" and advising "Ditch Blair, not Kyoto."
Health experts at the U.N. conference said Friday that global warming is responsible for as many as 150,000 deaths annually around the world.

Canadian Inuit of the isolated Arctic north have traveled to Montreal to join the protest. Indian leader Jose Kusugak told The Associated Press that he brought along hunters, trappers and elders to reassure them that people from the south were not indifferent to their plight.

"It was important to show there are a lot of people in the world who care," he said.

U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change:
Global March for the Climate:



climate conference meeting in Montreal

17 November 2005 - 6:30am

Call the COPs
A refresher on the basics of climate conferences and Kyoto
by Sarah Kraybill 16 November 2005 in Grist Magazine

Later this month, a mess of world leaders will be gathering in Montreal to discuss climate change. The conference is a rendezvous -- we must use French words when speaking of Quebec -- of COP 11 and MOP 1. And it has to do with the Kyoto Protocol! Isn't that mysterious and intriguing?One of these things just doesn't belong ... to Kyoto.

If you're not on the edge of your seat yet, let us spell it out for you: this meeting is quite important, in that future-of-the-earth kind of way. And once we've broken it down for you, you'll be knowledgeable enough to, well, care.

It all started in Rio (doesn't everything?). Long, long ago (1992) and far, far away (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC -- memorize this acronym, because it'll be coming up a lot) was produced at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, informally known as the Earth Summit.

The UNFCCC was a non-binding treaty aiming to address global climate change. It was eventually ratified by 189 countries, including all the world's developed countries -- yes, even the U.S. These countries agreed to work together to stabilize the amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and prevent dangerous human interference in the global climate.

And then the conferences began. For countries, a perk of signing and ratifying a convention is being invited to regular dates to make sure the convention meets its goals. These meetings are called Conferences of the Parties (COP). Grist suspects that countries might also hold regular Parties of the Parties (POP!), complete with cake and balloons. But not being a country, we've never been invited.

By March 1994, enough parties had ratified the UNFCCC that the shindigs -- er, the conferences -- could begin. The first Conference of the Parties, creatively called COP1, was in Berlin in 1995. COP2 was held in Geneva in 1996, and COP3 in Kyoto in 1997. Not much happened there. COP4 was in Buenos Aires ... ho ho, just trying to keep you on your toes! That Kyoto meeting was a doozy!

Enter: the Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto is Tokyo spelled sideways. Not that that matters; just something we've noticed. Now where were we? Oh yes. A binding legal agreement negotiated by parties to an existing convention can be called a "protocol." So the Kyoto Protocol was a protocol created at COP3 in Kyoto. Got it? We're not sure whether to thank the U.N. for keeping it easy for the laypeople, or chide them for their lack of creativity.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the world's Annex I, or developed, countries -- including the European Union, the United States, Canada, Japan, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Australia, and Russia -- would accept binding targets for reducing emissions of six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride.

These Annex I countries also bound themselves to paying for and supplying technology to developing countries for climate-related studies and projects. Emissions trading was given a big thumbs up. The ultimate goal: if somebody with a really cool calculator averaged the emissions of industrialized nations between 2008 and 2012, that average would be 5.2 percent below what the person with the really cool calculator found in 1990.

Exit: the U.S. The protocol could not become legally binding until at least 55 countries ratified it, including enough developed countries to account for 55 percent of 1990 greenhouse-gas emissions from developed countries. Got that? Basically, enough big guns had to sign on to make it worth everyone's time and effort. In 2001, only a few months after taking office, U.S. President George W. Bush announced that the U.S. would not ratify the protocol, and thus not be bound by it. Grist was not consulted in this decision -- nor, for that matter, was the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Was the Kyoto Protocol dead? The tension mounted ... the rumors flew ... and then Russia stepped in to save the day, ratifying the protocol in November 2004 and thereby pushing the group of participating countries past that 55 percent requirement. The Kyoto Protocol went live 90 days later, on Feb. 16, 2005.

Which brings us to today. Actually, into the future -- ooh, time warp! Montreal 2005 will kick off (in style, no doubt) on November 28th. It will be the 11th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP11). It will also be the first Meeting of the Parties who ratified the Kyoto Protocol (MOP1). See? That wasn't so hard.

The Honorable Stephane Dion, Canada's Minister of the Environment, will chair the conference, commencing his one-year tenure as president of the COP. The U.S. delegation will be headed by Paula J. Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs. The U.S. will have a vote in COP issues, but not in MOP issues. (Because they're part of COP, but not MOP. Remember?)

Sounds like a fun event, but here's the bad news: while as many as 10,000 people will be there, you're probably not one of them. Montreal 2005 is open only to representatives of countries who are parties to the UNFCCC, observer states, U.N. bodies, NGOs that have been formally admitted as observers, and accredited media. However, there will be associated events that are open to you, your cousin's cousin, and your Aunt Sally. And unofficial rabble-rousing too.

So go whoop it up! And bring us back a balloon.

Party Time
What to expect from the U.N. climate-change negotiations in Montreal
by Jason Anderson on 16 November 2005 in Grist Magazine

"Conference of Parties" sounds like a contradiction in terms: conferences are dull talkfests punctuated by free booze, and parties are free boozefests punctuated by dull moments of trying to talk over loud music. More of the former than the latter is likely to go on later this month in Montreal, during the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The event is a typical U.N. phenomenon -- a regular meeting of signatory countries to an international agreement, meant to chart progress and hammer out further commitments. But this year's UNFCCC COP is special, because it is also the occasion of the first Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol -- which, despite being short of loud music and booze, and lacking peyote entirely, will be a veritable Burning Man for the climate-policy set.

Since agreement of detailed rules for the Kyoto Protocol four years ago in Morocco, most time at COPs has been spent twiddling thumbs, waiting for Kyoto to enter into force. It hardly made sense to tackle any new issues while the protocol, the main event, languished. Now, however, the meeting takes on fresh significance. Thus we get the first-ever MOP, concurrent with the COP, between Nov. 28 and Dec. 9.

Officially they are separate meetings, but with significant overlap, since almost all countries (the U.S. and Australia being glaring exceptions) are party to both agreements. We can expect some pomp and circumstance to mark the protocol finally coming into force and the continuation of some long-running detailed discussions interesting to few. And then there will be some new items of real importance -- including the first stabs at what will happen when Kyoto ends in 2012.

MOPping Up the Pieces
The 156 countries at the MOP face an agenda containing some substantial issues. First among them is that all of the "decisions" taken until now that substantively affect the protocol -- from rules of procedure to the design of emissions-trading schemes -- are only drafts, and must be confirmed by the first MOP. This primarily means approving the Marrakech Accords, hammered out four years ago, which filled in the details of the protocol and gave countries the confidence to ratify it. While no glitches are anticipated (barring the now traditional Saudi attempt at sabotage), approving these decisions is vital. Quebec and call.

The Saudis may keep their powder dry for another agenda item, however -- settling on the compliance regime. Or, in other words, how to enforce the agreement. The protocol is legally binding, but there have been attempts to make it more hard-hitting with things like penalties for failing to meet reduction targets. This regime can be decided either by a decision of the MOP or by amendment of the protocol -- the Saudis have proposed the latter, which would mean another round of national deliberations that could take years. A decision, on the other hand, would take minutes. The UNFCCC Secretariat's agenda is a bit transparent regarding their view of how this will play out: it says (paraphrasing): "A: Take into account Saudi proposal for an amendment. B: Adopt the decision anyway."

Another important discussion, which basically all parties agree needs to be tackled, is about how to make the clean-development mechanism (CDM) work better. This is the system whereby developed countries with reduction targets can buy "credit" from emission-reduction projects in developing countries. The process is currently filled with expensive hoops; many criticize the executive board of the CDM for working too slowly, and say there are too many rules that, while designed to ensure only real reductions earn credit, make the process almost not worth pursuing. There are ideas afoot ranging from increasing board funding to dispensing with many of the rules, with possibly negative environmental repercussions.

What also needs to be addressed at the political level is what happens to the CDM after Kyoto's first commitment period ends in 2012 -- if some other system takes its place, investors need to know that the stream of future credits coming from their current investments won't go lost. A guarantee that the CDM will continue in the future is needed to make it work now.

Which brings us to the most significant item on the agenda, dictated by Article 3 Paragraph 9 of the Kyoto Protocol. This states that the discussion of future, post-2012 targets needs to begin seven years before the end of the first commitment period -- in other words, this year.

But Hey, No Pressure
With the U.S. and Australia out of Kyoto and debate raging in Europe and Japan about how to reach an agreeable deal next time around, there's no telling what the future of the protocol will be. With the system's entire design in question, the process of deciding targets won't be the orderly task the drafters imagined.

So what will the future hold? The E.U. tends to favor the approach of continuing Kyoto-type targets and inviting the more-developed of developing countries (like South Korea or Mexico) to accept them, while coming up with transitional commitments for other countries. This could pull China and India into a step-wise process of making more specific commitments, for example. However, the U.S. seems intent on rejecting any agreement with fixed targets and timetables, in keeping with President Bush's general rejection of international agreements that put external pressure on internal policy and economic decisions. Developing countries, meanwhile, are generally wary of taking on anything smelling of a fixed target, given that they have pressing development needs and low emissions compared to developed countries.

While the U.S. claims to offer an alternative in the form of technology development and bilateral or regional agreements (such as the Asia-Pacific Partnership), it is hard to take this seriously with no concurrent vision of how it will lead to real emissions reductions. However, as the world's biggest emitter, the U.S. needs to do little to make other countries rethink their approaches -- the U.K., for example, is bending over backwards trying to find a way to reconcile the E.U. and U.S.

We can't expect Montreal to hammer out any clear pathway to Kyoto or non-Kyoto futures. The fact is that international negotiation is slow business. But we can expect Montreal to adopt some principles, probably short of an actual action plan -- and then subsequent COP/MOPs will have the unenviable task of working out some kind of compromise.

It is always possible, of course, that while paying lip service to the U.N. process, bodies like the G8 and the sorts of regional and bilateral agreements the U.S. is engaged in will slowly chip away at the content of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, to the point where it faces a crisis. If no real progress is made in the next couple of years, it will be time to reassess. Meanwhile, the usual diplomatic give-and-take will grind slowly along. One thing's for sure: it's no party.