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ALLOCATING CO2 EMISSION RIGHTS

Third Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change: Kyoto, Japan

December 2, 1997: December 1st marked the beginning of the Third Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (or UNFCCC-COP3, for short) in Kyoto, Japan. It is the third in a series of conferences since a global climate-change treaty was adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. The aim of the ten-day Kyoto conference is a treaty reducing industrialized countries’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2010; this notwithstanding that few countries are close to achieving the emission cut-backs to which they committed themselves in 1992.

Some countries attending the conference appear to have no clear carbon dioxide emission reduction "target." Canada's Federal Government delegation has announced a planned 3% reduction on 1990 emissions by the year 2010, but the objective is angrily opposed by delegates from Canada's western oil and gas producing provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The United States, which accounts for 24% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, favors stabilizing emissions at 1990 levels by 2012. However, on July 25 of this year, the U.S. Senate voted 95 to 0 in favor of a Sense of the Senate Resolution stating that the United States should not be a signatory to a protocol binding developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions if the less developed countries do not also commit to reduce their emissions in the same compliance period.

Less developed countries are not inclined to agree to the condition imposed by the U.S. Senate. Yet the position of the U.S. Senate is rational, since policies that affect energy prices only in developed countries will cause energy intensive industries to relocate from the developed world to the less developed world. Criticism of the U.S. position comes not only from developing countries but from both the European Union, which proposes a 15% reduction in the 1990 rate of greenhouse gas emissions by 2010, and the Alliance of Small Island States, which proposes a 20% cut from 1990 levels by 2005. On the other side of the negotiating table, Australia proposes for itself an 18% increase above 1990 carbon dioxide emission rates by 2010.

Despite the apparent difficulty of resolving these widely differing positions, a workable solution to the challenge of allocating greenhouse gas emission rights among nations may eventually be reached through the creation of a market for emission quotas. Such a market would allow industry to continue operating where it is presently located, while providing a stream of payments from developed to less developed countries for the use of their unused emission quotas. In the future, the location of industry need not be constrained by national emission quotas and investors in both developed and developing countries would have an incentive to use low emission technologies. In the short term, however, the debate surrounding greenhouse gas emissions among the diverse interests represented by about 5,000 participants from over 170 different governmental and non-governmental groups attending Kyoto is likely to result in at least local climate warming.

LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION

(1) Official Web Site of the Third Conference of the Parties: The official web site has three mirror sites providing information on participants, the city of Kyoto, and conference schedules.

(2) UNFCCC COP3 Conference on Demand: A site where one can listen to live or previously recorded official COP3 sessions. (Target file no longer available)

(3) United Nations Environment Programme, Information Unit for Conventions (IUC): United Nations Climate Change Bulletin Issue 15, 4th Quarter 1997, and a list of IUC Press Releases related to climate change and Kyoto. Of special interest is a glossary of climate change jargon used in large conference negotiations.

(4) Official Web Site of the Climate Change Secretariat: provides links to different countries’ emissions data and activities related to climate change, plus text from official conference documents.

(5) Environment Canada’s Green Lane Climate Change Site, and a multimedia site overview of climate change.

(6) ECO Newsletter from Kyoto written for the non-profit NGO, Institute for Global Communications. (Target file removed from Web)

(7) Greenpeace Correspondence from Kyoto: includes colourful details about the conference, for example, that bird songs have been piped into the washrooms to encourage meditation.




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