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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Progress Made at Marrakech Climate Talks

Air Date: Week of

Representatives of nations around the world met in Morocco to put the finishing touches on the Kyoto climate treaty. President Bush calls the treaty "fatally flawed" and the U.S. has refused to participate. Still, Climate Change Convention officials believe the agreement will be ratified by next September. Living on Earth's Steve Curwood reports from Morocco.


ROSS: This is Living On Earth. I'm Pippin Ross, in this week for Steve Curwood, who's on assignment in Morocco at the United Nations Climate Change negotiations. Delegates to the talks have been meeting in Marrakech to hammer out the final details on how to implement the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty. A tentative agreement was reached in Bonn, Germany this summer, even though the United States withdrew from the process. Still, progress is being made. Convention officials expect the Kyoto Accord to be ratified by enough nations to make it international law by next September. From Marrakech, Steve Curwood reports.


CURWOOD: It's the first time in a decade of UN climate change negotiations that delegates have had a belly dancer for their lunchtime entertainment. But then, there's a lot different about this meeting. For example, it's the first time the Kyoto Accord negotiators have met in an Islamic nation, and it's the first time they have come to Africa. And many of them will be back soon, coming as delegates or observers to the massive World Summit on Sustainable Development planned in Johannesburg, South Africa for the fall of 2002.

Paul Desankar is Malawi's head delegate to the meeting in Marrakech. His mission at the seventh conference of the parties: to negotiate climate change aid for African countries. Mr. Desankar says putting the final parts of the Kyoto Protocol together here means a lot to Africans.

DESANKAR: For the African group, it's very important. It sets up the World Summit on Sustainable Development next year very well. People are very anxious to see concrete results from this, to set a good example for the World Summit next year.

CURWOOD: How crucial is the question of climate change to Africa?

DESANKAR: It is very crucial. It is critical for poverty alleviation, food security, water problems. It's quite fundamental to development in Africa.

CURWOOD: African nations were among the poor countries who came to the Conference looking for assistance to help them cope with climate change. The funds were promised as part of the original Global Warming Treaty ratified in 1993. The U.S. is among the many industrial nations who have yet to finance these initiatives to help the poorer countries respond to climate change. When the U.S. pulled out of the Kyoto Accord this spring, it said an undue burden was being placed on industrial nations because there are no caps on greenhouse gas emissions for developing nations. John Beale is Deputy Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He participated as a senior member of the U.S. delegation in Marrakech. I asked him why the U.S. came to this meeting after opting out of the Kyoto Protocol.

BEALE: The United States, like every other country represented here, takes the issue of climate change very seriously, and we are committed to a multi-lateral approach to climate change. We are parties, and active parties, to the framework convention on climate change. So, we are here participating fully in all of the issues under the framework convention, and we're also, while we're here-- we're making our expertise available to all parties on issues relating to the Protocol. You're right. We're not going to be participating in the Protocol; we're not going to ratify the Protocol. But we remain committed to addressing the climate change issue. We disagree with folks here on whether the Protocol is the right vehicle, but there's no disagreement that climate change is a serious issue, and we need to be taking action now to address it.

CURWOOD: I've heard a lot of criticism from developing countries in particular, that under the framework convention on climate change, which the U.S. has ratified, is fully committed to, there's been really no money, no support, to help developing countries deal with the devastating impacts of climate change that they are predicting in a place like Morocco, where they feel that they're seeing it already with drought.

BEALE: The United States has been working internationally on climate change and issues related to air quality, water quality, desertification, for over 10 years. And in those 10 years, we spent over 18 billion dollars addressing these issues. And that's more than any other country. It's more than Japan and the EU put together. So, we do take these issues seriously. We have a whole range of programs addressing those issues. The State Department has programs, USAID has programs, Department of Energy has programs, EPA has programs. And these cover the range from capacity building, developing inventories, things like that, to projects specifically designed to help increase the efficiency of motor vehicle fleets in countries, improve water quality, and fight desertification. So, the United States and, I think, other countries in the developed world, have invested significant sums of money. And it doesn't mean we can solve the problems completely, but we are addressing them and working on it.


CURWOOD: In the meantime, the other major industrial countries, aside from the U.S., spent much of the two week session sparring over compliance issues. But well before the end of the meeting, all the parties had settled the most contentious issues of compliance, and the final hours were spent hammering the last technical details.

Photo courtesy of IISD/ENB-Leila MeadPhoto courtesy of IISD/ENB-Leila Mead.


CURWOOD: While security measures at this conference were less visible than the heavy presence of police last summer in Bonn, the movement of army trucks and squads of SWAT teams kept just out of sight were reminders of the dangers of these times. It seems that the tragic events of September 11th may have softened the edges of many of the parties here. In fact, in a delicately worded welcome to the delegates, the King of Morocco, Mohammed the VI, noted that no nation has all of the right on its side. Ministers from many countries ranging from Belgium and Finland to Morocco and Japan all expressed their hopes that the U.S. would eventually ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

One of them was Bagher Asadi, the UN Ambassador from the Islamic Republic of Iran, and chairman of the Group of 77 and China, which is the principal negotiating team of developing nations at these talks.

ASADI: Now it appears that the Americans have realized the benefit of multilateralism. After September 11, the Americans have come to the United Nations in a more strong, more effective manner, in a more meaningful manner, but only as far as peace and security is concerned. We say multilateralism, as you have realized now, is beneficial, and you need it. But it's not only in the area of peace and security that you could need it. If you look at Kyoto Protocol, it means that multilateralism also is needed in economic and development area and environmental climate change processes and everything. Of course, at this stage they are not ready, but I suppose some time in the future they will be.


STEVE CURWOOD: In the end, what seemed to matter most to the more than 150 countries in the Kyoto process is that it kept going here in Morocco. And it goes with the hope that enough industrial countries will ratify the agreement so it can come into force by the time of the World Sustainable Development Summit in South Africa next year. For Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood in Marrakech, Morocco.




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