international climate talks 2001
The latest round of international discussions about global warming concluded in Milan, Italy on 12th December. Sadly, the UN Convention on Climate Change (COP9) again failed to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, prompting critics to write it off for the umpteenth time.
In the past ten years, it has been almost impossible to count the number of times that the Kyoto Protocol has been declared 'dead'.
A brief history
The international agreement to address climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions - which is still waiting to come into force - has endured years of premature obituaries. This is mainly thanks to the obstructionist efforts of the USA and the coyness of Russia : while the US refuses point blank refuses to ratify the agreement but insists on interfering in talks, Russia consistently promises its intention to ratify, but has frustratingly delayed actually doing so.
The first time it was being prematurely buried was just before the Kyoto meeting in 1997 when many observers predicted that big polluters such as Russia, Canada, the USA and others, would never agree to sign up to an agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions. In the end, Kyoto was adopted and a global agreement for an average of a 5% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions was reached. Then in The Hague in 2000, negotiations on how to achieve this reduction collapsed. The same observers said "That's it. Game over."
Bush scraps climate negotiations
About four months later, US President George Bush decided to pull out of the agreement - apparently at the insistence of the oil industry, led by Mr Bush's pals at Exxon. Again the nay-sayers were reading eulogies for the Kyoto Protocol. Yet, in July 2001 the nations gathering at next round of negotiations decided that the planet just couldn't afford to wait for Mr Bush to come to his senses and decided to move ahead without the USA. The Protocol can still come into force without the USA, but requires Russia to be on board to reach the global target of 55 countries representing 55% of industrialised countries' 1990 emissions.
The Russian position
Speaking from Moscow on the penultimate day of COP9 Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov declared that his country is preparing to accede to Kyoto. In an interview with Kyodo News, Kasyanov said that Russia is "pushing ahead with preparations for ratification" but that it is "taking longer than expected." He did not say when the ratification is likely to take place.
In fact, in the past three months President Putin has told three different heads of state that Russia would ratify. He confirmed Russia's intention of ratifying to the Canadian and Japanese Prime Ministers, Mr Chretien and Mr Koizumi during the Asia-Pacific Summit and repeated this affirmation to the Italian President, Mr Berlusconi, during Russia's summit with the EU two weeks ago in Rome.
Why we need Kyoto
The Kyoto Protocol is the only international framework to address climate change. The science is clear. Human activities are changing the global climate system in dangerous ways. Glaciers are disappearing, vector borne diseases are spreading, global average temperatures are going up, sea levels are rising, polar regions are melting. Scientists warn that the magnitude of the problem is only gradually being understood and it's much worse than originally thought. Globally we cannot afford to play politics with the only international agreement to address climate change.
Voices claiming that the Kyoto Protocol is dead are calling the score before the end of the game - and claiming victory for the wrong team. Kyoto is not dead. And we can't allow it to be killed if we want to protect the planet.