Green Activists Fear Countries May Be Losing Zeal for Kyoto

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

( - Environmental activists at the U.N. climate conference in Bali are characterizing the United States as "isolated" over its continuing rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, yet at the same time, there are signs that other key countries may be losing enthusiasm.

The new Australian government's decision to embrace Kyoto this week left the U.S. as the only one out of 36 so-called "Annex I" developed nations not to have ratified the agreement.

The 1997 agreement set those countries binding targets to cut their emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other "greenhouse gases" by an average of five percent (seven percent for the U.S.) against 1990 levels during the period 2008-2012.

President Bush rejected Kyoto on the grounds its requirements would harm the U.S. economy, and because it did not set emission cut targets on "Annex II" developing countries like China and India, even though they are major CO2 emitters.

The U.S. may be the sole Kyoto holdout, but at the 12-day Bali conference, where 190 nations aim to kick start negotiations for a new agreement for the period beyond 2012, the U.S. is not the only Annex I country worrying green campaigners.

Japan caused a stir when a delegate told the opening session, "It is essential to move beyond the Kyoto Protocol to a new framework in which the entire world will meaningfully participate in actions leading to global reduction of emissions."

"What does Japan mean?" the Climate Action Network (CAN) asked in a bulletin published in Bali on Tuesday. "Is Japan, the country that gave birth to the Kyoto Protocol, now saying that it should be scrapped on its tenth anniversary?"

The bulletin noted with concern that the Japanese official had spoken of a "market-based approach" to battling climate change and of "public-private partnerships," but made no reference to mandatory targets.

"Is Japan trying to go back to its old favorite proposal ... where each country can decide whatever action it wants to take, rather than negotiating the absolute binding emissions reduction targets that are needed to solve the problem?" it asked.

The Canadian government's position is also worrying activists, because it is adamant that any post-Kyoto agreement must include emission reduction obligations for all large emitting economies.

That would obviously include not just the U.S. but also China and India -- the second- and fifth-largest emitters, respectively, according to World Bank.

But the two Asian giants are both resistant to binding targets.

China put forward a proposal this week for Annex I countries to aim to reduce emissions by between 25 and 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. At the same time, it continues to insist that "at [the] current stage, it is inappropriate to impose compulsory emissions reduction targets on developing countries."

Those countries, like China itself, should instead take other actions "in line with their specific conditions," including introducing clean technologies, the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary.

Even the Australian government, although the darling of the Bali conference because of its reversal on Kyoto, has said that it will only support a post-2012 agreement that includes China and India.

"We would expect binding commitments to be on the table for both the developed and developing nations," newly-appointed Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said in Australia.

Neither Japan, Canada nor Australia have put forward proposals for new targets for developed countries for the 2012-2020 period.

The European Union is proposing cuts of 20 percent -- or up to 30 percent as long as other industrialized nations are on board.

Climate campaigners want more.

"Rich countries can show they are serious about stopping global warming in its tracks by committing in Bali to emissions reductions of at least 30 percent by 2020," said Stephan Singer of the WWF, the group formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow