Delegates stall action on greenhouse gases

AFTER the hype and pomp of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, diplomats met again in Geneva in December to start work on implementation of the emasculated climate convention that world leaders were so eager to sign as proof of their green credentials.

Despite warnings from Bert Bolin, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, will .,require major reductions of the anthropogenic (human-made) emissions" of greenhouse gases, nothing substantive was discussed by the delegates who laboured hard for four days, "negotiating" schedules for future meetings.

The mood at the Geneva meeting was more subdued than at earlier negotiations. The executive secretary of the intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) for a climate change convention, Michael Zammit Cutajar, said, "The politics have already been negotiated and though many countries may not be happy with the' I convention, they realisethey have to live with it."

Though 159 countries have signed the convention, it has been officially ratified by only seven, including USA, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zimbabwe. USA tried to take the lead by announcing it had formulated a national action plan, obligatory under the convention. However, an internat iional lawyer with the US Environment Defence Fund, Scott Hajost, said, "This plan is a no-action plan."

There were indications of divisions within the European Community. Though the UK delegate, speaking for the EC, said each country was working to achieve ratification "at the very latest by the end of 1993", non-governmental community representatives disclosed that the EC is unlikely to take a tough stand on the climate convention as long as the presidency lies with a recalcitrant UK. Once the presidency shifts to Denmark, the EC will push for harder emission limitation targets. The need to start thinking:bout protocols with real limits was stressed by the Dutch. Poor European countries such as Spain and Portugal are apparently concerned that limits on emissions would affect their development.

Delegates from the alliance of small island states, including countries such as Vanuatu, Samoa and Nauru, which face a threat of altered climate due to global warming were keen on quick action,&The Samoan delegate, S Sesega, said, "We would like to see protocols as soon as possible. A lot of things have been said and now is the time for action".

'The Saudi Arabians,who are yet to sign the convention, and other OPEC countries did their best to retard the work of the committee. When chairperson Jean Ripert suggested that the next meeting of the committee be held in March, the Saudis promptly argued March was the month of Ramadan. Greenpeace climate specialist Bill Hare said, "Working with the Saudis is like trench warfare". Though Saudi Arabian delegate Mohamed S Al- Sabban denied any delaying tactics, the Saudi Arabians did manage to delay substantive work till August 1993. The OPEC countries fear a stronger convention would mean carbon emission cuts and taxes on oil consumption.

It was decided at the meeting that the working group dealing with financial, procedural, institutional and legal matters will meet in March 1993, so that the INC can send a report to the Beijing meeting of the Global Environment Facility, which has been suggested as the interim financial mechanism under the con- vention.