UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal: Creating a Climate of Cooperation
Canada hosts the first meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Montreal in conjunction with the eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention.
The conference is an historic event. Not only will the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) be meeting for the 11th time, but 2005 also marks the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol. At Montreal, the first ever meeting of the Parties to the Protocol (MOP) will be held parallel to the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP). The United Nations Climate Change Conference is set to be the largest intergovernmental climate conference since the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997. Some 8,000–10,000 participants are expected.
Now that pan-European emissions trading has begun and the Clean Development Mechanism, as a tool to promote sustainable development and combat climate change, is operational, the conference is also attracting unprecedented business interest.
Creating a Climate of Cooperation
By Klaus Toepfer
Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Rarely a week goes by without a story of extreme weather capturing the headlines. Around the world, floods, wildfires, drought and storms are taking an increasing financial and humanitarian toll. Individually, none of these events is conclusive proof of climate change, but combined with other evidence, such as accelerating glacial melt in both hemispheres and the recently reported thawing of vast areas of Siberian permafrost, a picture emerges of a steadily warming world.
The potential consequences of climate change are profound, particularly on people in the less developed countries. The question is therefore not whether climate change is happening, but what to do about it. The answer lies in a double strategy. We need to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, which will mean altering how we live and do business. We also need to realistically assess the implications of the changes that are already upon us and adapt accordingly.
Adaptation is particularly important because, even if countries meet all the Kyoto Protocol targets—and it is widely accepted that these targets are only a step towards the solution rather the solution itself—the massive inertia of climate change means that it may continue to gather force in the coming decades despite our best efforts to halt it. Whether the prognosis is for more frequent and intense storms, or widespread water shortages as mountain glaciers melt and semi-arid lands become drier, the lesson we are learning—too often the hard way—is that preparedness is key.
Alongside preparedness lies cooperation. Major disasters often generate an immediate reaction. The massive and unhesitating international response to the Indian Ocean tsunami is a prime example. But, as the wrangling over the outcome text of the 2005 World Summit and the delay in ratifying the Kyoto Protocol show, achieving international cooperation and commitment towards solving long-term developmental issues is more of a struggle.
Tackling climate change is indispensable to meeting all the Millennium Development Goals. Climate-related disasters dramatically diminish the chances of reducing poverty and hunger, improving health for mothers and children and ensuring environmental sustainability. This is why it is important to stress that working to reduce carbon emissions by promoting fuel efficiency, renewable energy and other clean technologies is a no-regrets policy that can work to the benefit of all.
Thankfully, consciousness is growing that now is the time for action. The global political climate is changing as fast as the physical climate. This year the Kyoto Protocol finally came into force. In July the G8 significantly chose to focus on the twin issues of climate change and Africa’s development, with the clear message that by tackling climate change we are also addressing poverty reduction. And, in the same month, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and the United States announced the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate.
The Asia Pacific Partnership emphasizes voluntary practical measures to promote the development and deployment of cleaner and more efficient technologies and practices. This is further evidence to me that the tide is turning. Everyone now recognizes that climate change is real and that we need to respond urgently and cooperatively.
Voluntary initiatives are fundamental to that response. For example, a growing number of companies round the world are embracing clean development and turning it to their own business advantage. They want to make sure they are in the vanguard as we progress to a cleaner more sustainable world.
However, it is important to stress that such initiatives are complementary to Kyoto, not alternatives. Kyoto remains the foundation and benchmark of all our efforts to halt and reverse climate change. It provides essential mechanisms for reducing emissions and promoting clean development. Furthermore, its targets and deadlines provide the accountability and transparency necessary to enrolling the full support of the developing world, and especially the powerhouse economies of Asia.
The current global dependence on energy from fossil fuels threatens our environmental, economic and physical security. The Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol provide a substantial basis for working together for a cleaner, more sustainable future.
Now that the Protocol has entered into force, the eyes of the world are on the Annex I Parties. The extent of their commitment to meeting their obligations to reduce emissions and finance technology transfer will directly affect the willingness of developing country Parties to agree on their own responsibilities now that attention is turning to the forthcoming second commitment period.
At the first Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Montreal at the end of November, all minds must be focused on the future. Climate change is a long-term problem that demands long-term solutions. This year has seen a number of positive developments. If we build on them, and reinforce the foundations provided by the Kyoto Protocol, I believe we have a realistic chance of rising to what is without doubt the greatest challenge humankind has ever had to face.
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