Bearing Hopes and Fears, Delegates Gather for UN Climate Talks

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, November 28, 2005 (ENS) - How best to limit global warming is the issue uppermost in the minds of all delegates as governments from 190 countries, as well as numerous nongovernmental organizations and media, gather here for the first meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol and the 11th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Opening today, the meetings conclude December 9.

The average temperature of the Earth's surface has risen by 0.6 degrees Celsius since the late 1800s. It is expected to increase by another 1.4 to 5.8 degrees C by the year 2100 - a rapid and profound change. Even if the minimum predicted increase takes place, it will be larger than any century-long trend in the last 10,000 years.

Rising temperatures are due to industrialization - the burning of ever greater quantities of oil, gasoline, and coal - as well as deforestation over the past 150 years.

Developed countries, taken as a group, have achieved sizable reductions of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, but further efforts are needed to sustain these reductions and cut them further, according to the UN body responsible for coordinating the Climate Change Convention and its associated protocol, signed in Kyoto, Japan in 1997.


Richard Kinley is acting head of the UNFCCC Secretariat. He took over from Joke Waller-Hunter who passed away on October 14, 2005. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
Richard Kinley, acting head of the UNFCCC Secretariat, said that much of the reduction was achieved in the early 1990s in Eastern and Central European countries undergoing transition to a market economy.

"National efforts to implement the Climate Change Convention and to prepare for the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol have already resulted in emission reductions," Kinley said of the pact that requires 35 industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by five percent by the year 2012.

Compared to 1990 levels, he said, their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were down 5.9 percent in 2003.

But, Kinley warned, "What we see is that the emissions from developed countries as a group have been stable in recent years and not decreased as they did in the early 1990s. Moreover, greenhouse gas projections indicate the possibility of emission growth by 2010. It means that ensuring sustained and deeper emission reductions remains a challenge for developed countries," he said.

These findings are supported by a new UNFCCC publication, Key GHG Data, the first publication covering all GHG data officially submitted by developed and developing countries under the Climate Change Convention.

The Kyoto Protocol came into force in February after Russia ratified it. After President George W. Bush withdrew United States support in 2001, Russian ratification became vital since 55 Parties to the UNFCCC had to ratify the protocol, including the developed countries whose combined 1990 emissions of carbon dioxide exceed 55 percent of that group's total. Russia, with 17 percent, pushed the amount over the threshold.


Traffic in midtown Manhattan. Burning fossil fuels for transportation and the generation of electricity produces greenhouse gases that trap the Sun's heat close to the planet, raising its surface temperature. (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto)
The United States accounts for about 24 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions related to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. The Kyoto Protocol governs the emission of six greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide is the most prevalent of the six.

The Montreal talks are the first opportunity for governments of the 35 industrialized countries that are bound by the Kyoto Protocol to discuss their progress and negotiate how to proceed after the protocol's first commitment period concludes at the end of 2012. There is general agreement that this first round of commitments will not reverse climate change but is a foundation for future emissions reductions.

Negotiations under the protocol exclude those governments which have not signed up to the Protocol. These governments, which include the United States and Australia, can participate as observers but cannot block the negotiation process.

The environmental community is calling on governments to launch a process in Montreal for negotiating a strong regime for post-2012 greenhouse gas reductions, and commit to completing these negotiations by 2008.

The Climate Action Network Canada, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations, has issued a "Declaration on Climate Justice and the Montréal Climate Change Summit," calling on ordinary Canadians to get involved in the process by holding their government accountable its actions, or inactions, under the Kyoto Protocol, to which Canada is a party.


A village street in Haiti is flooded by torrential rains. (Photo by C. Errath courtesy FAO)
The Network is asking for signatures affirming the Declaration, which details the dangers of global warming, saying, "If the Kyoto Protocol is not soon followed by other, much more significant steps to reduce GHG emissions, we will not be able to avoid the probable – and terrible – impacts of continued warming such as threats to water supplies and food production, increases in droughts and floods, the massive loss of species and vulnerable ecosystems, and sea level rises. These will put tens of millions of additional people at risk from coastal flooding and hunger, hundreds of millions from malaria, and billions from water shortage by the 2080s if the global average temperature approaches 2°C above the pre-industrial level. The current average temperature is already 0.6°C above pre-industrial levels."

The Montreal talks are exptected to attract up to 10,000 people, including high level government leaders and ministers from around the world as well as media, scientists, business people and environmentalists. As the host country, Canada is making sure that their travel to and from the conference will not increase the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Calculation of emissions generated by the conference is based on each participant's long distance and local travel, as well as local accommodation and the conference venues. It is estimated that event attendance and accommodations will generate approximately 10,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalents.

On Sunday, Canadian Environment Minister Stéphane Dion announced that the conference will be "a carbon neutral event," meaning that the government will offset the CO2 equivalents emitted by buying emissions reduction credits.


Canadian Environment Minister Stéphane Dion (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
"I am proud to announce that the government of Canada is showing leadership at this milestone meeting to address climate change by hosting a carbon neutral event," said Dion.

To accomplish this, the Canadian government will be working with the Pembina Institute to retire some 10,000 metric tons of certified emission reduction credits from Canadian generated wind power.

"We are very pleased to assist in helping make the United Nations Climate Change Conference carbon neutral," said Marlo Raynolds, executive director of the Pembina Institute, an independent, not-for-profit environmental policy research and education organization.

"We created the Wind Power by Pembina program to help individuals, corporations and governments alike help move towards a sustainable energy future by setting a great example and powering their computers, homes, businesses or events by the wind," said Raynolds.

The Canadian government is also working through the brokerage firm and the Gold Standard to purchase 430 metric tons of emission reduction credits from Energia Ecologica de Palcasa S.A. in Honduras. This is a methane recovery project which will generate electricity to be used in the local community. The government is also taking steps to reduce the environmental impacts of the conference.

Hydro-Quebec and its partners have adopted measures that will offset more than twice the amount of greenhouse gases - approximately 60 kilotonnes of CO2 emissions - produced as a result of the conference. This will make it a "climate positive" event, said Dion.


Burning of jet fuel to transport delegates to the conference in Montreal contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo courtesy )
Part of this initiative is the Corporation Saint-Laurent Earth Day project which involves planting 10,000 trees in 100 Quebec communities beginning with Montreal. Dion made the climate neutral announcement at the planting of 100 trees on Mount Royal. It symbolizes the offset of greenhouse gas emissions created by the conference participants.

In all, 70 kilotonnes of CO2 emissions will be offset.

Canada will continue to serve as President of the UN climate change negotiations for the 12 months following the Montreal meeting, and all events during that year will be climate neutral, Dion said. "I am pleased that all events being hosted by Canada as part of my Presidency of CoP11 will continue to follow the precedent set in Montreal," the minister said.

But nongovernmental organizations said last week that Canada needs to do much more than it is currently doing to ward off climate change.

Under the Kyoto Protocol Canada must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to six percent below 1990 levels by 2012. So far, Canada's emissions are 24 percent above 1990 levels.

A report released November 22 by the David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute shows Canada needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Friends of the Earth International is calling on governments gathering in Montreal to agree on a firm plan for a new round of negotiations on the post-2012 commitments, with a clear timeline, starting in 2005 and running through to 2008.

Friends of the Earth International Climate Campaigner Catherine Pearce said, “The Montreal talks are crucial for achieving international action on tackling climate change. The participating countries must push forward for urgent action and develop a process which will allow developing countries such as China and India to come on board."

“While it is of course disappointing that the world’s richest country and biggest polluter has not signed up to Kyoto, the U.S. administration must not be allowed to hamper international action," said Pearce. "It can only be hoped that the American administration will soon recognize how important this process is. We do not have the time or the need to begin this process all over again.”

The Bush administration does not reflect the interests of many state leaders and individuals in the United States. In February, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels challenged mayors across the country to join Seattle in taking local action to reduce global warming pollution by taking on Kyoto style targets, through the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Now, 166 cities in 35 states have now signed up. A U.S. Senate resolution this summer acknowledged the threat of climate change and the need for a mandatory cap on emissions.


Events will be taking place alongside the official climate negotiations throughout the 12 day conference, and many will be used to launch campaigns or reports. For instance, on December 5, the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative will hold a side event to launch a new publication on the perspective of the financial sector. A set of presentations from banking and finance decision makers will introduce a panel discussion.

Environment Canada awarded 10 merit scholarships at the Gala for Youth Excellence in Climate Change on Saturday. The event was held in conjunction with the International Youth Summit taking place from November 24 to 28 at Environment Canada’s Biosphère on St. Helen’s Island in Montreal.

The government of Canada is presenting a side event about its system for monitoring, accounting and reporting sinks and sources on Canada's forests, agricultural and other managed lands. The event will take place twice, on Wednesday and on Saturday.

The European Space Agency's side event on Wednesday highlighting the increasing number of countries that are working with the ESA to use satellite images as input for the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions.

Funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research, a side event on linking of domestic emissions trading schemes takes place on December 3. The session integratively assesses different future scenarios of linked company based emissions trading schemes and their economic, institutional and equity implications.

On December 6, a side event chaired by Claude Mandil, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, will present the agency's publications on the role of domestic and international emissions trading in climate policy, global opportunities to save energy in lighting, the impacts of CO2 constraints on oil refineries’ competitiveness, and clean technology deployment in developing countries.

The new forthcoming International Standards on Greenhouse Gas Quantification, called ISO 14064, will be highlighted at a side event December 8 hosted by the government of Canada through Climate Change Technology Early Action Measures. This event will present tools and methodologies for quantifying, reporting, validating and verifying the GHG mitigation potential for projects according to ISO 14064 standard.

Also on December 8, the Russian National Carbon Sequestration Foundation holds a side event on implementation of the Kyoto Protocol in Russia. Russian officials as well as representatives from business community and NGOs will present what has been done so far and what is envisaged for realization of the Kyoto Action Plan, which was adopted by Russian government in February 2005.

Friends of the Earth will be holding "paint-ins" for people to add their contributions to the Climate Mosaic at the Complex Guy-Favreau, next to the Palais des Congres. The Complex will be transformed into an exhibition hall for the duration of the conference, themed “A World of Solutions.” Other international organizations and youth groups will be taking part.


Synchronized demonstrations in more than 30 countries are planned for Saturday, December 3, the International Day for Climate Action. Demonstrators will demand that the United States and Australia ratify the Kyoto Protocol immediately, and that the entire world community move as rapidly as possible to a stronger emissions reductions treaty that will be equitable and effective in stabilizing greenhouse gases and preventing climate change.

In Montreal, a march is planned from the Papineau metro station and simultaneously from Dorchester Square. The two groups of marchers will walk towards each other on St. Catherine Street, which the police have agreed to close to traffic. They will meet for the final gathering next to the Palais des Congrès where the conference is being held. There will be a giant hourglass, speeches, artistic performances and other "fun and festive ways for participants to tell decision makers that time is running out!"


The UN climate talks are being held at the Palais des Congrès de Montréal (Photo by Sylvain Majeau courtesy Tourisme Québec)
The march, which is being organized by a collective of environmental groups, student groups and unions from Canada and beyond, aims for 15,000 participants.

The London Climate March on Saturday will be many times bigger than any demonstration on the issue so far, organizers say. Marchers will walk past the ExxonMobil London offices, the Australian Embassy, and Downing Street, to finish with a rally and speeches at the US embassy.

The London protest has acquired an extra urgency in the light of Tony Blair’s apparent signalling of a Bush-ward shift on climate policy so organizers have rerouted the march past No. 10 Downing street where a letter will be handed in, demanding that the British government reaffirm its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol with firm, legally binding targets on emissions reductions.

At the U.S. embassy in London, speakers will include Michael Meacher MP, ex Labour minister for the environment; Norman Baker MP, Lib Dem shadow environment minister, Caroline Lucas a Green Party Member of the European Parliament; Peter Bunyard, science editor for "The Ecologist;" Fazlun Khalid from the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and the Environmental Sciences; Ruth Jarman from Christian Ecology Link; and Nick Rau, climate campaigner from Friends of the Earth.

Protestors demanding urgent action on climate change will be taking to the streets in cities across the world from New York to Paris, from Istanbul to Cape Town, from Lisbon to Moscow, and from Seoul to Sydney.

Web Links:

United Nations Climate Change Conference Official Site:

Essential Background: publications from the UNFCCC:

Key GHG Data:

International Demonstration:

Climate Action Network Canada Declaration on Climate Justice:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: