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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 December, 2003, 19:36 GMT
Life remains in Kyoto treaty

By Tim Hirsch
BBC environment correspondent at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Milan

Factory spewing smoke
Compromises have been made on issues such as industrial emissions
After the US author Mark Twain read his obituary notice in the press, he famously commented that rumours of his death had been greatly exaggerated.

That has, more or less, been the message here from supporters of the Kyoto climate change agreement, after some newspapers sounded its death knell last week.

The confusion has arisen from the conflicting messages coming out of Moscow on whether Russia will go ahead with ratification of the protocol to reduce the greenhouse emissions linked to global warming.

After the near-lethal wound dealt to Kyoto by the withdrawal of the United States in 2001, the Russian Government now has the power either to give it the kiss of life or to switch off its life support and watch it die.

Rows avoided

Few now expect this decision to be made until after Russian President Vladimir Putin goes through his re-election campaign in March, and probably not for some time beyond that.

This two-week UN conference on climate change was to mark the start of serious talks on the next steps beyond the 2012 end to the targets set by Kyoto.

But with the patient in such a delicate state, the organisers have deliberately avoided setting too challenging an agenda.

Ministers' contributions have been confined to informal "round table" discussions, rather than having to agree on a declaration which could spark off the usual rows that accompany this drawn-out process.

There have been important detailed negotiations to finalise the rules of the Kyoto system - if it does come into effect - and these have had their hitches.

GM 'fudge'

For instance, some countries wanted genetically-modified trees to be specifically excluded from proposals to fund forestry projects in developing countries which absorb carbon dioxide, thereby earning "credits" to offset industrial emissions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian ratification remains the only hurdle for Kyoto
In the end a compromise was reached, allowing the countries where these "carbon sink" projects take place to make their own assessment of the risks of GM trees.

It was a fudge which pleased neither environmental groups nor the US, but it enabled a much wider agreement on the rules covering these projects to be sealed.

With the Kyoto rule book now virtually complete, Russian ratification is the only remaining hurdle.

Other initiatives

But enthusiasts for the process, such as the European Union, have made it clear that they are not sitting around twiddling their thumbs while the fate of the protocol is decided.

In two years' time an important EU scheme comes into force which will set strict limits on emissions from large industry and power stations.

Similar steps are under consideration in Canada and Japan, and even some individual US and Australian states are contemplating their own action.

So, the visitors gathered around the hospital bed in Milan this week are not as gloomy as some may expect.

And they certainly do not feel they have been attending a funeral.

Humans' 10,000-year warming habit
10 Dec 03  |  Science/Nature
Russia's climate tussle spins on
04 Dec 03  |  Science/Nature
Russia pulls away from Kyoto
02 Dec 03  |  Science/Nature
Cars risk Europe's climate cuts
02 Dec 03  |  Science/Nature
US hails own climate policies
01 Dec 03  |  Science/Nature
Climate talks end without result
03 Oct 03  |  Science/Nature
Climate change: The big emitters
29 Sep 03  |  Science/Nature


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