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Critics of Kyoto talks say air now a commodity

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Source: ENN

Critics of Kyoto talks say air now a commodity

Wednesday, November 07, 2001
By Gilles Trequesser, Reuters

MARRAKESH, Morocco — Can we really trade the air we breathe? Critics of U.N.-organized climate change talks rhetorically asked the question at a news conference Monday to charge that experts meeting in Marrakesh were far removed from real issues that affect the lives of ordinary people throughout the world.

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Delegates from 164 countries began a second week of highly technical talks to wrap up a deal on the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to combat global warming and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for raising the Earth's temperature.

Representatives from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said common sense was at times sorely missing in documents being prepared for the ministerial meeting on climate change from Wednesday to Friday, which will conclude the two-week Marrakesh conference, the first major international gathering since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Nonbureaucrats and nonspecialists were left out in the cold, and the opaque language, not to say jargon, used at plenary sessions, workshops, and in hundreds of documents was unlikely to be easily understood by the majori ty of people, including the ones most affected by climate change, they said.

"There is now talk of privatizing the air we breathe," said Tom Goldtooth of the U.S.-based Indigenous Environmental Network, in reference to an "emissions trading" scheme being planned. The scheme is part of the Kyoto Pr otocol's "flexible mechanisms" and would allow one country to buy the right to emit from another country which has already reduced its emissions sufficiently and therefore has "spare" emissions reductions.

TRADE AIR?

The Kyoto Protocol, forged in 1997 in Japan, seeks to cut emissions of greenhouse gases — gases that trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere — by about 5 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. It will go into force once ratified b y 55 countries responsible for 55 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in 1990. So far, 40 countries have ratified it, 39 of them nonindustrialized nations.

"With emissions trading, corporations have found a new way of continuing their ruthless commodification of nature," said Goldtooth, a native American. "They've lost touch with real issues that affect people. In my languag e, it is hard for people to understand what it means to trade air." He and other representatives of indigenous peoples deplored that the world's 350 million indigenous peoples still had no voice at the U.N. climate talks, unlike at other U.N. forums.

Sounding a more favorable note, Mark Kenber of the World Wildlife Fund said emission trading was not the evil capitalistic scheme presented by some. "If emission trading delivers what you want it to deliver, one would be in favor, but if it does not do that and expands the loopholes that exist, we would be against it,'' he said at a workshop on the sidelines of the conference.

Speaking at a news conference, the NGOs' representatives gathered under a broad-based coalition called Climate Justice insisted on the need for big corporations to effectively adhere to guidelines that would protect the e nvironment. "Only 122 companies in the world are responsible for 80 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions," said Amit Srivastava of San Francisco–based CorpWatch. "And just four private global oil corporations produce 1 0 percent of all CO2 emissions."

Advocates of the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States denounced last March as "fatally flawed" and harmful to its economy, agree it will not solve all environmental problems but hope it will set up a compulsory framewo rk on which to build in the next decades.

The Marrakesh meeting, attended by some 2,500 delegates, is known as the COP7, the seventh conference of the parties to a U.N. treaty signed at the first Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro.

Copyright 2001, Reuters
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