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

What’s New Buenos Aires

Air Date: Week of

The next phase of the Kyoto Protocol is underway in Buenos Aires this week as 194 countries gather to work out the details of the climate-controlling treaty. Host Steve Curwood talks with Jennifer Morgan, of the World Wildlife Fund, who’s been attending the conference.



CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

Climate change negotiators are at work in Buenos Aires from now until December 17th, preparing to implement the Kyoto treaty that will put a mandatory cap on climate changing gases. Twelve years ago when the world first formally agreed that global warming is a threat, almost every nation, including the United States, ratified a treaty that called for voluntary cuts in carbon dioxide and other global warming gases.

But when a mandatory plan that was hammered out in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 started to move forward, the Clinton administration dragged its feet and the Bush administration ultimately decided to opt out altogether. But 194 countries have now finally ratified Kyoto, most recently Russia, and with that assent the Kyoto protocol, as it is formally known, will become international law on February 17th.

Jennifer Morgan joins me from Buenos Aires. She’s been following these negotiations for more than a decade, most recently as director of the International Climate Change Program for the World Wildlife Fund. Hello, Jennifer.

MORGAN: Hello.

CURWOOD: What’s the mood like there in Buenos Aires among the negotiators here on the climate change agreement?

MORGAN: I think the mood, for the most part, is one of new energy. I think for the Kyoto protocol parties there’s a very positive feeling that they did indeed make it, they did indeed move forward independent of the Bush administration. But there’s also a mood of extreme concern, and much more vocal delegates from Africa, from small island nations who are experiencing these impacts.

You know, how does a community – like the many that have been hit in the Philippines recently – prepare itself better for these types of extreme weather events that are going to come in a more intense and frequent way? How does a community that’s facing sea level rise in a country like Tuvalu manage, and hopefully not have to relocate its whole peoples to somewhere else?

And that’s something that is one of the big topics here in Buenos Aires. I think these countries are just much more on the front line, and feeling and tasting climate change, that, you know, it’s just no longer some esoteric futuristic issue. It’s really a matter of survival. And hopefully that feeling of urgency and new energy will help and propel us forward in tackling this tremendous threat.

CURWOOD: Officially, what’s supposed to happen at this conference with regards to the Kyoto protocol?

MORGAN: Well, there’s a number of things. As the Kyoto protocol is going to become international law and enter into force on February 16 next year, countries and the secretariat are working hard to make sure that it will be up and running and functioning. So there’s a couple of decisions that need to happen on that side of things.

And then, believe it or not, they’re already talking about, well, what comes next? Because there’s a real recognition that this protocol is only a small first step. We know that if we want to avoid the worst warming, and keep global average temperatures below a dangerous level, we need to be talking about 60 to 80 percent cuts by 2050 from developed countries. And developing countries are also starting to take measures to curb their emissions and meet their development goals at the same time.

CURWOOD: Now, it would seem to me that a number of countries are going to have quite a bit of work to do in order to meet the emissions cuts under the Kyoto protocol. Canada has, what, gotta cut its greenhouse gas emissions by some 20 percent of where they are now. Japan’s numbers I think are up in the 10-12 percent range over the targets. What countries are going to have trouble meeting these targets? And how are they going to do it?

MORGAN: Well it’s definitely the case that with the entry and the force of this protocol it just got much more serious, because countries are going to have to meet these targets. And indeed, the Japanese and the Canadians are the furthest off meeting their commitment. In both countries right now there’s a lot of pushback from industry. In Japan there’s opposition to anything that might sound like a carbon tax or an emissions trading system, and in Canada there’s quite a lot of focus on trying to do as much outside of Canada as passing laws to do things inside Canada to reduce emissions. And in the European Union you do have the beginning, on January 1, 2005, of the emissions trading system, but it’s not strong enough. And without meeting the targets, you know, the credibility of this protocol is definitely in question.

CURWOOD: Now, tell me about the carbon trading system that’s involved with the climate change agreement here. What is carbon trading? And how will it work?

MORGAN: Carbon trading basically works on the basis of there’s a cap on the emissions – so how much all of these countries are allowed to emit. And then, just like kind of in a bank account, you have that cap but you can buy and sell permits to pollute from different countries. So, for example, if in Germany they’re looking for more economically efficient credits, they could go to Poland and actually buy some credits from Poland to emit more in Germany. So Germany would then be able to emit more, and Poland would be able to emit less, and the atmosphere doesn’t really know the difference.

CURWOOD: How well is this carbon trading system expected to work?

MORGAN: Well, the foundation for it, which is much like the foundation for a stock exchange, where you really need to know what exactly is being traded, the inventories for these countries, keeping track of who’s buying what and selling what, that’s all quite in place. And the ironic thing is a lot of this has been built on American systems, so it’s ironic that the U.S. is not part of this right now. But certainly getting it going and seeing how the market functions and everything else, we’ll see. In some ways it’s a U.S.-based experiment that’s happening in the rest of the world.

CURWOOD: Jennifer Morgan is director of the International Climate Change Program for the World Wildlife Fund. Thanks for taking this time with me today.

MORGAN: Thanks for the chance to do it.



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