US in plan to bypass Kyoto protocol

Posted in Other | 28-Jul-05 | Author: Paul Brown and Jamie Wilson| Source: Guardian (UK)

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick (L) talks to Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer during a news conference at the Laos International Trade Exhibition & Convention Centre in Vientiane, July 28, 2005.
The United States and Australia have been working in secret for 12 months on an alternative to the Kyoto protocol and will reveal today a joint pact with China, India and South Korea to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The deal, which will be formally announced by the US deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick in Laos today when the five "partners" hold a press conference, comes a month after Tony Blair struggled at the G8 summit to get George Bush to commit to any action on climate change.

Details of the agreement are not yet public but it is clear it is designed to give US and Australian companies selling renewable energy and carbon dioxide-cutting technologies access to markets in Asia.

It is thought the pact does not include any targets and timetables for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which the rest of the developed world has signed up to under Kyoto.

The US, Australia and China are big coal exporters and are anxious to develop and export clean coal technologies.

The existence of the pact appeared to come as a surprise to Downing Street yesterday.

The government eventually issued a statement through the Department for Environment welcoming the agreement but warning that it could not replace Kyoto. It also made clear that Mr Blair would continue to discuss climate change with America, China and India, as part of his G8 presidency.

Oliver Letwin, the Conservative environment spokesman, said it was "odd" that the pact had not figured in the Gleneagles discussions but added: "I hope that it means Bush at last accepts the need to move in a sensible direction."

Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, described Mr Bush's failure to disclose the deal at Gleneagles as "a poke in the eye for Tony Blair".

The existence of the pact, and the fact it was designed as an alternative to Kyoto, were disclosed by Australia's environment minister, Senator Ian Campbell.

He said: "It is quite clear that the Kyoto protocol won't get the world to where it wants to go. We have got to find something that works better. We need to develop technologies which can be developed in Australia and exported around the world - but it also shows that what we're doing now, under the Kyoto protocol, is entirely ineffective. Anyone who tells you that the Kyoto protocol, or signing the Kyoto protocol is the answer, doesn't understand the question."

Kyoto would fail because "it engages very few countries, most of the countries in it will not reach their targets, and it ignores the big looming problem - that's the rapidly developing countries".

He disclosed that the US and Australia had been working on the deal for 12 months.

The British government statement said: "We welcome any action taken by governments to reduce greenhouse gases ... The announcement from Australia and others certainly does not replace the Kyoto process.

"Kyoto represents a historic first step in world cooperation but needs to be built on post 2012 - that process continues in Montreal later this year. We made excellent progress on climate change at Gleneagles.

"The G8 leaders, including President Bush, signed up to a plan of action to reduce emissions. In addition ... China, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and India, were brought into the debate on energy needs, development and climate change, on equal terms."

The trade agreements in the Kyoto protocol allowed developed countries, and companies in them, to export clean technologies to developing countries and make money by claiming carbon credits. These credits are the notional tonnes of carbon saved by using low-carbon technologies and renewables to generate electricity rather than dirty coal or other fossil fuel plants. These deals are not open to the US and Australia because they repudiated the treaty.

Environment groups across the world yesterday expressed doubts that the US was doing any more than safeguarding its own trade in technology.

Mr Juniper said that only a legally binding treaty which set targets and timetables to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would achieve the 60% reductions which scientists said were required to save the planet from climate change.

"I fear this is another attempt to undermine Kyoto and a message to the developing world to buy US technology and not to worry about targets and timetables."

US environmental groups agreed and pointed to an energy bill expected to move through Congress this week which includes $8.5bn in tax incentives and billions of dollars more in loan guarantees and other subsidies for the electricity, coal, nuclear, natural gas and oil industries.

The White House said that President Bush intended to sign the bill.