Battle brewing over future of Kyoto

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - A long, slow line of young people marched through the Bella Center here chanting the message "Don't kill Kyoto."

Their call echoed the developing world's battle cry, one that was heard in negotiating rooms throughout the Copenhagen climate change conference. The fate of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol may well prove to be the main stumbling block at the talks, which will conclude when more than 100 world leaders arrive in Copenhagen.

The standoff over the fate of Kyoto has pitted two titans – China and the United States – against each other. It also threatens to sideswipe Canada, which is shadowing the U.S. position.

The poorer countries assembled at the 12-day United Nations global climate change negotiations, represented in a bloc known as the G77, say they want the Kyoto deal extended past its 2012 deadline. The upside for them: Kyoto puts no obligation on them to control their emissions.

China, India, Brazil and South Africa authored one of several draft agreements circulating here that calls on rich countries to take on targets under an extended Kyoto plan that would cut emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020.

Lumumba Di-Aping of Sudan, the voice of the G77, called on U.S. President Barack Obama to "join the Kyoto Protocol because the world cannot achieve an equitable and just deal that will save the planet without the United States."

"This is what we expect of him as a Nobel Prize winner," he told reporters, referring to Obama's stop in Oslo, Norway to accept the peace prize.

The U.S., and by extension Canada, doesn't want Kyoto to survive past this two-week negotiating session. Obama's chief climate envoy explicitly ruled out a Kyoto compromise when he arrived.

The countries currently assigned emission cuts under Kyoto account for less than 37 per cent of the world's emissions, and that's not good enough to effectively control the Earth's temperature, said Michael Martin, Canada's chief negotiator.

But the UN executive secretary for climate change, Yvo de Boer, said all the carefully designed tools that help rich countries cut their carbon footprint and let developing countries achieve sustainable economic growth are packed tightly into the Kyoto agreement.

To pull them out and stuff them into a new deal in Copenhagen – one that must then be accepted by 192 countries – puts at risk the global effort to cope with climate change, de Boer said.

"I think the Kyoto Protocol will survive and I think the Kyoto Protocol must survive," he said.

The Danish hosts of the summit proposed in a draft agreement that Kyoto be extended to 2020 with the Americans and developing countries signing on to targets.

That would shine an unwelcome light on Canada, which is the only country with Kyoto obligations that refuses to own up to them, both because it would cost billions of dollars in penalties and put it at a disadvantage compared with the United States, its major trading partner.

Martin said he expects the stalemate to continue when environment ministers arrive to set the stage for the leaders in the final days of the summit.

"I'm confident that we will see greater flexibility," he said. "In my experience, the arrival of leaders focuses the mind."


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