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Kyoto Set to Dominate Milan Climate Talks

Experts from 180 countries meeting in Milan on Monday for a new round of U.N. climate talks will thrash out the finer details of the crucial Kyoto Protocol amid new evidence that global warming is on the rise.


Milan focuses on emissions and the environment.

Government representatives and environmental experts from 180 countries will meet in Milan from December 1-12 for an annual review of U.N. efforts to tackle climate change.

The overarching issue for the 12-day meeting is expected to be the U.N.’s groundbreaking 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which suffered a serious setback in September after Russian President Vladimir Putin shied away from promises that Moscow would ratify the key environmental treaty soon.

Moscow the environmental kingmaker

The fate of the Kyoto Protocol, which sets individual targets for industrialized countries to lower their emissions of carbon gases on average by 5.2 percent below their 1990 levels over the next 10 years, now rests in Moscow’s hands after the United States pulled out in 2001. Washington argued at the time that the Kyoto Protocol was too expensive and unfairly excluded developing nations.

So far 119 nations including the EU member states, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Brazil, India and China have ratified the treaty. Kyoto needs to be approved by countries accounting for 55 percent of emissions in the developed world to enter into force. The present signatories make for 44 percent of emissions, thus making Russia’s 17 percent a crucial contributory factor to meet the set target.

But Moscow has said it needs time before it signs on the dotted line as it weighs the financial implications of a complex clause in the treaty allowing for the creation of a "carbon market," potentially worth billions of dollars a year, where industrialized signatory countries can buy and sell emissions "credits" in order to meet their treaty obligations.

Summit could put pressure on Russians

Experts, however, believe it could be months before the Russians come around. "I think we will have to wait until after Duma elections [Dec. 7] and then Putin’s own election next spring," Jennifer Morgan, climate policy director at the WWF environmental group told Reuters last month after the Moscow climate conference took place.

Others believe that the Milan summit, though largely technical in tone, could be used to send a powerful message to the Russians. German environmental expert Regine Günther from WWF said the "the nations that have ratified Kyoto must once again put pressure on Russia and tell it that they expect Russia to ratify it (Kyoto) as President Putin had announced."

The nuts and bolts

The first week of the Milan summit is expected to be dominated by technical questions relating to the Kyoto Protocol like hammering out rules for how countries can plant forests to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Working groups from various nations will also grapple with details of the treaty such as how industrialized nations can invest in clean technologies in developing regions and offset the resulting emissions reductions against their own targets.

The summit will conclude with ministerial round table discussions on Dec 10-12, where ministers will discuss basic underlying issues such as whether the planned proposals actually work and how environmentally friendly technologies can be better promoted.

Green concerns could fuel broader debate

But even as the mired Kyoto Protocol dominates the agenda at the Milan summit, it’s hoped that the meeting will also provide a chance for a broader discussion on climate change. Increasing evidence of global warming is expected to prompt environmental deal makers to explore new long-term measures to contain climate change.

According to new research by the Environment Organization WWF an overall rise of global temperatures by 4 degrees Celsius before the end of the century would eliminate almost all of the world's glaciers causing sea levels to rise and wiping out fresh water supplies for billions of people. Many now argue that far more drastic action is needed than Kyoto’s plan to cut emissions by five percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

German environmental Minister Jürgen Trittin told DW-RADIO that the German government would like to work towards concrete goals while it waits for the Russians to sign up. "We must set up a task for ourselves. For instance one can simply say: we must see to it that the average temperature in this century doesn’t increase by more than two degrees. Then we control such extremes to an extent," Trittin said. "But it’s a very challenging goal," the minister admitted.

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