Magazine article The Christian Century

Climate Treaty Reached

Magazine article The Christian Century

Climate Treaty Reached

Article excerpt

The leader of an international church delegation to the United Nations' conference on climate change, held in Kyoto, Japan, has given a cautious welcome to the new treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions. David Hallman, the climate change program coordinator of the World Council of Churches, said that "at least the reduction targets for emissions by industrialized countries, like the U.S., Canada and Japan, are tighter than in the original proposals."

The aim of the Kyoto conference was to arrive at a plan to reduce emissions of so-called "greenhouse gases," such as carbon-dioxide, which are a main cause of global warming. Carbon dioxide is produced from burning oil and other fossil fuels.

The Kyoto protocol, which was agreed to early on December 11 by environment ministers from nearly 160 countries after a marathon all-night negotiating session, commits 38 industrialized countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of slightly more than 5 per cent under 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. All are committed to deeper cuts after that. The U.S., the world's leading producer of greenhouse gases, agreed to reduce emissions by 7 percent, Japan by 6 percent, the European Union by 8 percent.

"It is a truly historic agreement, for it holds the promise of a safer, cleaner, healthier world for our children," declared Mark J. Pelavin, associate director of Reform Judaism's Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C. "Active U.S. participation in this effort to curb greenhouse gases is a critical step in leading developing nations of the world, including China and India, to act."

But according to Hallman, there are "a number of big loopholes in the treaty which could allow the rich countries to claim they were meeting the targets without having to limit their domestic emission very much at all." One example of such a loophole was the fact that industrialized countries would be able to trade "emissions quotas" among themselves, Hallman said. This would allow a country falling short of its cutback target to purchase quotas from a country which had exceeded its target. Western countries could thus purchase "reduction credits" from Russia and other eastern European countries whose emissions had dropped as a result of the collapse of their economies, thereby avoiding full cutbacks, he suggested.

Said Hallman: "Continuing close scrutiny will be needed at the national and international level by churches and other nongovernmental organizations to make sure these loopholes don't negate the intent of the treaty as it moves into an implementation phase over the next couple of years. …

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