Berlin conference ends in hot air

Issue 

By Pip Hinman

Australia will be well remembered for its role at the two-week climate conference in Berlin. With the so-called left winger Senator John Faulkner at the helm, the Australian delegation collaborated with a handful of rich countries to weaken the final proposals for greenhouse gas reduction.

The Australian position put profits before people, unashamedly attempting to make the poor countries carry the burden even though it is the rich developed countries which produce most polluting gases. The refusal of Australia and a few other countries to accept firm targets eventually resulted in a weak final mandate proposing limited greenhouse gas reduction "objectives" by the years 2005, 2010 and 2020.

"Australia seems unwilling to move from a position that places it apart from the bulk of the world's nations", said Michael Krokenberger, Australian Conservation Foundation campaign manager, from Berlin on April 7. "The vast majority of countries support specific reference to binding emission reduction targets for industrialised countries being included in a mandate for a protocol to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC)."

Apparently German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was forced to make a special plea in a bid to save the conference from a lack of outcome.

Canada, which like Australia expects to be 13% above 1990 levels by the year 2000, had resisted accepting any new targets, but eventually softened its approach. "Canadian environment minister and deputy prime minister Sheila Copps indicated Canada's support for binding emission targets, as high as 20% below a 1990 baseline", Krokenberger said.

"By contrast, Senator Faulkner's statement to the conference made only vague reference to reductions as part of a negotiable package of options, and therefore did not provide unequivocal support for reductions."

While Faulkner said that Australia was "well aware of and sensitive to the special vulnerability of many of the small South Pacific Island states", he made no mention of the protocol by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), which includes binding targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2005.

In a hard-hitting speech, largely addressed to Australia, Fijian environment minister Jonetani Kaukimoce said: "It is apparent that beneath the rhetoric there is no real desire for change ... It is this preference for complacency, a business-as-usual approach that has undermined the collective effort to move forward."

Krokenberger said it was clear that the Australian government had allowed its coal industry "to determine Australian foreign and environmental policy and come before Australian commitment to effective global action".

This concern was shared by other non-government environmental groups which watched as US, Canadian and Australian government representatives, driven by their powerful fossil fuel lobbies, frustrated all attempts to set reduction commitments for the industrialised world.

The April 5 edition Eco Newsletter, produced by the environment NGOs in Berlin, reported that during the conference the US, Canada, Japan, Australia and the European Union had not even been prepared to push the signatories of the 1992 Rio FCCC to commit themselves to reach its target of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2000.

With only a few days of the conference left, only China, India, Brazil and Slovakia looked like they would support the OASIS protocol.

The US, supported by Australia, waged a stalling operation, insisting that poor countries participate in any "new aim" set by the conference. According to the Eco Newsletter, "The US assured the press today that it has no problem with the word reduction, as long as it is put into the right context. Apparently this means that reductions are acceptable, as long as this doesn't mean to reduce emissions."

While this might sound like a word game, "this ambiguity has the potential to undermine the integrity of the Convention. If each party is allowed to claim that it has 'reduced' emissions by not allowing them to increase by quite as much as projected under the wildest dreams of coal and oil lobbyists, then all accountability will be lost."

In their speeches to the conference, the leaders of the industrialised world — and Faulkner's was no exception — relied heavily on a liberal sprinkling of motherhood statements, such as "global problems require global solutions", to argue the case that poor countries have the same responsibility as the major culprits in solving the greenhouse gas problem. In this context, the industrialised countries hit on the "joint implementation" idea, which would allow them to pay for cheaper emission-reducing projects in poor countries — tree planting or pollution control — rather than tackle the nastier and more expensive problems back home.

This "solution" ignores that fact that industrial countries such as the US and Canada emit 10 to 20 times the amount of carbon dioxide per capita as developing countries like China and India.

In the last two years India has invested $1 billion in solar and wind energy and China has stepped up its energy efficiency measures. But environmentalists point out that, without a massive increase in technology and financial transfers from the rich countries, the developing world has little room to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Germany has plans for a different sort of joint implementation. In a press conference, initially closed to environmentalists, the Federation of German Industries (BDI) together with German government representative Angela Merkel argued that nuclear power was the clean alternative energy!

The BDI president claimed, "On a global scale in 1994, 432 nuclear power stations in 30 countries generated enough electricity to avoid 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide". Merkel said that "there are no reasons to exclude some technologies completely from technology transfer". East Europe is the most likely destination of German nuclear technology exports under the banner of joint implementation.

But US and European Business Councils for a Sustainable Energy Future, representing more than 50 natural gas, electric power, energy efficiency and renewable energy companies and industry associations, stressed at a press conference on April 4 that there are many cost effective opportunities to develop less carbon-intensive energy systems in both industrial and developing countries.

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