Climate change conference opens in Buenos Aires

Issue 

Climate change conference opens in Buenos Aires

By Francesca Davis

On November 2, the fourth meeting on climate change since the Kyoto conference began in Buenos Aires, with more than 160 countries attending.

The conference looks set to be controversial because, while Kyoto set targets and deadlines for greenhouse gas emissions, it did not establish how they would be achieved. Now the rules and regulations have to be negotiated.

One key question will be whether developing countries should be required to cut their emissions by a specific figure.

This is contentious because most greenhouse gas pollution comes from the developed countries.

Although the US administration has said it will sign the treaty before March 1, 1999, Congress will not ratify the agreement unless developing countries are included.

Even more worrying, according to Greenpeace, is the focus of the conference on forest inclusion and what is known as the "clean development mechanism" (CDM).

The CDM is supposed to transfer money and technology to the developing world to improve energy efficiency, resulting in cost-efficient greenhouse gas reductions.

The reality may be that countries like Australia improve coal power plants abroad and in return receive credits to increase their own greenhouse gas emissions. It may also be simply a relocation of dirty industries from the First World to the Third World.

Acquiring carbon "credits" by planting trees is equally problematic and a diversion from the real issues, according to Erwin Jackson from Greenpeace. The concept could provide an incentive to cut down valuable old growth forest and replace it with fast-growing eucalypt trees.

In any case, even if all the global area estimated able to be forested were planted, emissions would be lowered only by 2-5% by 2100.

Another rort for developed countries is the trade in emissions scheme. This may encourage countries to inflate emission targets in order to convert the difference between real and projected emissions into cash.

Jackson comments, "The key question is whether governments will support renewable energy solutions to climate change or whether they will continue to pay lip service only and protect oil, coal and nuclear interests".

The Pacific island countries are amongst the 55 countries that have already signed the Kyoto agreement. They plan to operate as a unit, along with other island countries, to insist that reductions in greenhouse gas emissions be real and lasting.

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