Climate Change Editorial

Our Planet - Fresh Water


KLAUS Toepfer

United Nations Under-Secretary General
and Executive Director, UNEP


The Fourth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will be different from the Third. More than a year ago, intensive deliberations resulted in the Kyoto Protocol.

Sober reflection on what was forged at Kyoto reveals a sense of optimism that, despite inadequacies, there is a solid platform upon which effective carbon emission control can be built.

Some feel that the Kyoto Protocol lost sight of the ultimate objective of the parent Convention on Climate Change, that is to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. Nevertheless, it has sent an important signal to investors and industries about the need and opportunities to introduce technologies that reduce carbon emissions. The Protocol contains the seeds for new markets in emissions that will, in the coming decades, take their place alongside traditional markets in commodities and financial instruments. The Kyoto Protocol could also be a turning point in making an orderly transition to an economy powered by renewable energy sources and production of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Buenos Aires should be a 'nuts-and-bolts' meeting anchored in common sense whereby Kyoto's theory can be transformed into reality. All the basic elements are there - sequestration and sinks, joint implementation and emissions trading and the revolutionary Clean Development Mechanism.

It will be up to the delegates at Buenos Aires to give substance to these elements. There is widespread agreement that the Clean Development Mechanism provides ample opportunities for early and substantial emission reductions which can involve all parties, irrespective of their regional or economic affiliations, in collaborative, cost-effective emission reduction and climate control. The importance of the Mechanism should also be seen in its value as a bridge - with incentives - between developed, industrialized countries and the developing world.

UNEP's contribution

In collaboration with a number of relevant organizations, (the Convention on Climate Change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the World Bank, amongst others) UNEP wants to contribute to the development of these international instruments, just as it did in establishing the IPCC with the World Meteorological Organization. UNEP intends to move beyond the information and science-based approach to define practical instruments, in particular economic instruments, to move forward to the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol and to lay the basis for its future strengthening.

In this regard UNEP and UNCTAD have jointly launched an initiative for an International Forum on Economic Instruments for Environmental Policy. The Forum will create a consultative process which is intended to contribute to efforts leading to the use of economic instruments for sound environmental policy. The process will also allow the consolidation of analytical work and experience to assess, compare and build coherence in the use of different economic instruments as part of a package of measures to achieve internationally agreed approaches. The process will involve close collaboration with relevant organizations, including those mentioned above.

Common sense tells us that it will require a concerted effort of both developed and developing countries, acting together, before we can guarantee stabilizing climate at a level that will prevent adverse effects - an objective adopted by all Parties and to be achieved with due account of historical obligations and differentiated responsibilities.

People's action

However, in the search for partners, we must not neglect domestic opportunities. While governments ponder, people are acting. There is no scientific conundrum more familiar to people than climate change. There is a groundswell of opinion requiring corrective action. Municipalities are applying energy saving schemes and adopting transport policies that provide documented emission savings and air quality improvements beyond the most optimistic targets of their national governments. They are doing so at little monetary cost and often have savings which further enhance municipal development. Awareness at the family level and application of simple solutions result in savings in domestic fuel bills. Enlightened utilities and small businesses are replacing energy costs with profits. Associations of business and service industries have climate awareness high on their agenda. Some, like the insurance and travel industries, are working with UNEP on codes of conduct that demonstrate environmental responsibility that others should envy.

Kyoto was looked to as an opportunity to make amends for the inaction in the post-Rio period. We must now look to Buenos Aires for the practical steps which will make effective emission control a reality.

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