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Morocco: Buying Clean Air?

by Gilles TreqeusserReuters
November 4th, 2001

MARRAKESH, Morocco -- Can we really trade the air we breathe?

Critics of U.N.-organized climate change talks rhetorically asked the question at a news conference Monday to charge that experts meeting in Marrakesh were far removed from real issues that affect the lives of ordinary people throughout the world.

Delegates from 164 countries began a second week of highly technical talks to wrap up a deal on the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to combat global warming and reduce emissions of "greenhouse gases" blamed for raising the earth's temperature.

Representatives from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said common sense was at times sorely missing in documents being prepared for the ministerial meeting on climate change from Wednesday to Friday which will conclude the two-week Marrakesh conference, the first major international gathering since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Non-bureaucrats and non-specialists were left out in the cold and the opaque language, not to say jargon, used at plenary sessions, workshops and in hundreds of documents was unlikely to be easily understood by the majority of people including the ones most affected by climate change, they said.

"There is now talk of privatizing the air we breathe," said Tom Goldtooth of the U.S.-based Indigenous Environmental Network, in reference to an "emissions trading" scheme being planned.

The scheme is part of the Kyoto Protocol's "flexible mechanisms" and would allow one country to buy the right to emit from another country which has already reduced its emissions sufficiently and has therefore "spare" emissions reductions.

The Kyoto Protocol, forged in 1997 in Japan, seeks to cut emissions of greenhouse gases -- gases that trap heat in the earth's atmosphere -- by about five percent from 1990 levels by 2012.

It will go into force once ratified by 55 countries responsible for 55 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in 1990. So far, 40 countries have ratified it, 39 of them non-industrialized nations.

"With emissions trading, corporations have found a new way of continuing their ruthless commodification of nature," said Goldtooth, a native American. "They've lost touch with real issues that affect people. In my language, it is hard for people to understand what it means to trade air."

He and other representatives of indigenous peoples deplored that the world's 350 million indigenous peoples still had no voice at the U.N. climate talks, unlike at other U.N. forums.

Sounding a more favorable note, Mark Kenber of the World Wildlife Fund said emission trading was not the evil capitalistic scheme presented by some. "If emission trading delivers what you want it to deliver one would be in favor, but if it does not do that and expands the loopholes that exist, we would be against it," he said at a workshop on the sidelines of the conference.

Speaking at a news conference, the NGOs' representatives gathered under a broad-based coalition called Climate Justice insisted on the need for big corporations to effectively adhere to guidelines that would protect the environment.

"Only 122 companies in the world are responsible for 80 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions," said Amit Srivastava, of San Francisco-based CorpWatch. "And just four private global oil corporations produce 10 percent of all CO2 emissions."

Advocates of the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States denounced last March as "fatally flawed" and harmful to its economy, agree it will not solve all environmental problems but hope it will set up a compulsory framework on which to build in the next decades.

If Japan, Russia, the European Union (EU) and a number of Eastern European nations join hands, they would make up the needed 55 percent even without Washington. The EU nations produce some 24.4 percent, Russia 17.4 and Japan 8.5 percent.

Japan, the world's second-largest economy which holds a swing vote, has been under persistent pressure from Europe to ratify the Kyoto climate change pact without Washington.

Fearing that they could lose their competitive edge in the global markets, Japanese business circles have cautioned against ratifying the Kyoto Protocol without the United States.

Another Japanese government source said, however, that Tokyo was concerned that if Japan failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, Japanese products could be boycotted in Europe and in other areas that support the climate treaty.

"Consumer boycotting. That is one of the factors Japan has been considering before making a final decision on the Kyoto Protocol," the source said.

Environment Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi was to unveil Tokyo's decision when she visits Washington on Monday for talks with U.S. officials, the sources said.

"Environment Minister Kawaguchi will try again to persuade the United States to return to the Kyoto Protocol," a Japanese government source told Reuters. "But regardless of a U.S. response, the minister will tell them Japan is preparing to ratify the treaty."

The source also said Kawaguchi had no plans to make any new proposal on a thorny issue involving the rules of the treaty being discussed at the talks.

The Marrakesh meeting, attended by some 2,500 delegates, is known as the COP7, the seventh conference of the parties to a U.N. treaty signed at the first Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro.





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