Press Releases

    ENV/DEV/822
         18 February 2005

    Participants in Special Event Marking Entry Into Force of Kyoto Protocol Stress Need for Action to Counter Global Warming

    Sharing Of Clean-Energy Technology, Emissions Trading Schemes Among Issues Discussed

    NEW YORK, 17 February (UN Headquarters) -- Amid fanfare marking the entry into force yesterday of the Kyoto Protocol, leading proponents and critics of the pact gathered in New York today to discuss what comes next; agreeing that the accord was an important step -- but only a first step -- in the long-term course of action needed to slow global warming by imposing legally binding caps on greenhouse gas emissions caused mainly by burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars.

    “This is a great stride forward in our struggle to confront one of the biggest challenges we face in the twenty-first century: climate change”, said Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a video message to open the special meeting, “One day after Kyoto: the next Steps on Climate”, convened by the United Nations Foundation at the world body’s Headquarters to celebrate the aims of the pact, as well as encourage frank discussion of what challenges lay ahead.

    “Today marks an important first step in the right direction. We must now use the Protocol to move towards a less carbon-intensive world economy -- one

    that gives the right incentives for investment in climate-friendly technologies”, Mr. Annan said. From now on, industrialized countries that were party to the Protocol had a clear obligation to reduce emissions. To do so, they could use the market to trade a new commodity: carbon. The Protocol would also generate resources for developing countries, to help them deal with climate change.

    But by itself, the Protocol would not save humanity from the dangers of climate change. “So let us celebrate today, but let us not be complacent”, he said calling 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!”

    The United Nations-led global warming accord went into force yesterday, after years of delays, imposing limits on emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases blamed for increasing world temperatures, melting glaciers and rising oceans. Formally known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the pact targets carbon dioxide and five other gases that can trap heat in the atmosphere and are believed to be behind rising global temperatures that many scientists say are disrupting weather patterns.

    The landmark agreement was negotiated in Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto in 1997, and has been ratified by 141 nations accounting for 55 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions pledging to cut those emissions by 5.2 per cent by 2012. Those exceeding the 2012 goals will be penalized with bigger cuts than the average targets from 2012. But the United States, currently the world’s biggest polluter, pulled out in 2001. Washington has said the accord was too costly, based on unreliable science and unfairly excluded large, rapidly developing nations like India, China and Brazil, which account for a third of the world’s population.

    Opening the discussion this morning, José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that Kyoto’s success had not only spotlighted a critical issue of global concern, but had also generated a new sense of optimism for the efficacy of United Nations-guided international instruments. But a celebration of this meaningful success must include an honest assessment of just how much work lay ahead in order to halt dangerous sea level rise, save fragile ecological resources, and neutralize the effects of intense and more frequent weather phenomena.

    “This is only the fist step”, Mr. Ocampo stressed, adding that, although the Protocol had been a great breakthrough, new questions about its efficacy from now and into the near future needed to be urgently addressed. There was increasing politicization of what had initially been a scientific and ecological issue. He noted the limited participation of some of the world’s most developed countries, but warned that, although developing countries had not contributed the bulk of greenhouse emissions up to now, they were estimated to account for more than half of those emissions in the very near future. He urged everyone to “think beyond Kyoto”, and envision long-terms solutions to the climate change problem, for the benefit of all humanity.

    United States Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska), standing by Washington’s decision to opt out of the Kyoto Protocol, said that the United States had, nevertheless, been “out of the game for the past four years” and needed to seriously address the climate change issue. Just this week, he had introduced new legislative measures in Congress focusing on the development and sharing of clean energy technology, while providing tax incentives to United States businesses that operate in an environmentally-friendly way. The plan also focused on helping bridge the differences between developed and developing countries, particularly rapidly developing nations, on climate change and issues such as carbon sequestration.

    Senator Hagel hoped his plan would contribute to a new United States and international approach that could spur cooperation between rich and poor nations to help develop new technologies. Ensuring a clean environment could not be divorced from the challenge of global poverty alleviation. A joint approach required acknowledgement of shared responsibilities, particularly since, as global populations and economies expanded, Kyoto objectives met by developed countries would be eclipsed by the greenhouse emissions of fast-developing nations such as China.

    Although those nations might lack clean energy technology or could not absorb the impact of emissions reduction strategies outlined in Kyoto, sharing cleaner energy and environmental technologies could help them leapfrog over highly pollutant developmental stages that industrialized countries like the United States had already been through. But it was not an unrealistic burden for big developing countries to share in the global effort to reduce gas emissions. Finally, although it was clear that man was affecting the environment, there was no consensus among scientists on the impact on the climate, today or in the future. But that should not stop or inhibit the development of policies based on sound science.

    “Climate change is real...and lack of consensus in the scientific community is no excuse for inaction”, said Professor Daniel Schrag, head of the Harvard University’s Centre for the Environment. Everyone knew that something was going on out there, and scientists agreed on that at least. Climate change was too important to become a partisan issue, as it had become in the United States and other countries. It affected international security, global technology and economics, he said.

    “We have to act now. In 50 years, we can’t turn on a dime and fix this once the effects of rising carbon dioxide levels become clear... If Greenland or a few small pacific islands start sliding into the sea, that’s going to be a very hard process to stop.” Asked if it was too late to make any headway, Professor Schrag said that, beyond the clearly urgent ecological imperatives, there were critical technical issues that needed to be examined quickly. For instance, carbon sequestration would require vast infrastructure that barely existed today. And with rapid development and expansion under way in China and India, new technologies could be put in place in those countries now and would not have to be replaced or retrofitted at great cost later. It would be crucial to encourage bilateral agreements between developed countries, he added.

    Following the Professor’s slide presentation featuring vivid portraits of the effects of climate change worldwide, Emyr Jones Parry, British Ambassador to the United Nations, provided some troubling statistics of his own “for those who still had their heads buried in the sand”: the five hottest years on record had all occurred since 1997; the 10 hottest, since 1991. New research by the United Kingdom’s Hadley Centre indicated that, by 2040, European summers like the 2003 scorcher would be considered normal; by 2060, they would be considered cool.

    And, of course, those likely to suffer most were those who lacked the resources to tackle global warming themselves. Africa appeared to be getting drier in its northern and southern latitudes and wetter in the tropics. Climate variability and climate change would significantly impact the ability of African countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The global community was doing quite a lot already to help address those and other pressing issues, as evidenced by the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol. But it was clear that the international community would need to go well beyond existing Kyoto provisions, to deliver substantial emissions reductions in the long-term.

    Ambassador Jones Parry said the issue of climate change would be a top priority during the United Kingdom’s upcoming European Union presidency and chairmanship of the Group of Eight (G-8). The international community must work with vulnerable developing countries to build an understanding of climate risk, and ensure the integration of climate issues into broader development planning. He added that activity at the regional level was equally important. The European Union had just launched the world’s first multinational emissions trading scheme aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the Union at the least cost to industry. The first phase of the scheme commenced on 1 January 2005 and would run to the end of 2007. It included all 25 Member States and covered almost 50 per cent of European Union carbon dioxide emissions.

     The United Kingdom’s experience had shown that significant emissions reductions could be achieved without compromising economic development. There was no need for a “trade-off” between environmental protection and economic prosperity -- inaction would always be more costly. “Given this audience and location, I should probably make a few comments on our engagement with the United States on climate change”, he said, highlighting some impressive initiatives being taken at United States city and state levels in New York and California. He said the United Kingdom and the United States were jointly taking work forward under the Evian G-8 action plan on science and technology for sustainable development, using the opportunity of the back-to-back British presidencies to help bring technologies to market. As a world leader in scientific research, the United States had a significant contribution to make to the development of new technologies to combat global warming.

    Amir Dossal, Executive Director of the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships, and Timothy Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation, moderated the opening segment of the event.

    A panel discussion followed, moderated by Stephen Heintze, President of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, one of the meeting’s co-sponsors. Panellist John Podesta, President of the Washington-based Centre for American Progress, opened the discussion warning that delaying implementation of carbon emission standards by even five years could be catastrophic.

    But he did not underestimate the political challenge -- in the United States and around the world -- of implementing many of the initiatives proposed today. What he hoped was that the almost automatic response to climate change questions -- “It just costs too much” -- would soon be eclipsed by the voices of even the most reluctant politicians saying “How can we afford not to do something about it?”

    Enele Sopoaga, Tuvalu’s Ambassador to the United Nations and Vice-Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said that small islands were being “thrashed, bashed and threatened” by cyclones, high winds and other negative effects of climate change such as sea level rise, increased soil salinity.

    Summing up the discussion, Christopher T. Walker, Swiss Re Financial Services Corporation’s Climate Group, said mankind’s fingerprint was clearly on the climate change, and A. Gopinathan, India’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, stressed that the lack of participation by some developing countries did not translate into a lack of environmental effectiveness of an international climate change regime such as the Kyoto Protocol. The panel acknowledged the pivotal decision of the Russian Federation to sign the protocol and usher it into effect.

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