Economy and Energy
Year  II - N° 8

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Tuesday, 03 May 2011.

Brazil in Kyoto

José Domingos Gonzalez Miguez
Version to English
Anessandra de Ávila Ribeiro

The recent Protocol adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997, within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, ended with success - a limited success though - the long process that began during the 1st Conference of the Parties of the Convention, in Berlin, Germany, in 1995.

In Berlin, the countries acknowledged that the commitments established in the Convention, agreed by the developed countries in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, that is, returning by the year 2000 to the emission levels of 1990, were insufficient for the achievement of the objectives of the Convention, that is, avoiding a dangerous human interference with the climate system. It was decided in Berlin that new commitments should be established in a Protocol by the time of the 3rd Conference of the Parties held in Kyoto.

According to the Protocol, the industrialized countries (32 countries listed in the Annex I of the Convention) agreed to reduce their anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases by 5%, on average, in relation to the levels emitted in 1990 in the period between 2008 and 2012.

Greenhouse gas concentrations remain in the atmosphere for long periods of time. CO2, which is the main greenhouse gas generated by human activities, remains in the atmosphere for more than one century. The greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today are a result of emissions being released since the industrial revolution. Most of the current concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere originated from emissions by the industrialized countries and this is the reason why the Berlin Mandate established new commitments only for such countries.

Whereas a 5% reduction in relation to 1990 levels seems to be a great effort for the developed economies - considering that the emissions of many of them were 10% above the 1990 levels in 1997 - when it comes to initiating a process of reverting global warming, this effort represents very little, that is why we said earlier that the success of Kyoto was limited. The emissions, in spite of possible reductions, will continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases and accelerating global warming as a consequence.

The main objective of the Brazilian participation in Kyoto was helping to decrease the difference between the point of view of the developed countries and that of the developing ones. Brazil, as a developing country, has no emission reduction commitments but participated actively in the decisions made in the Conference.

In May, 1997, Brazil formally submitted to the Secretariat of the Convention a proposal of elements for the preparation of the Protocol  (available on the Internet  ). The purpose of the Brazilian proposal was to establish an objective criterion to measure the responsibility of each country in causing the greenhouse effect, thus avoiding decisions to be made on a purely political basis that would not consider objective factors, such as great polluters having to carry the greatest part of the burden.

The Brazilian proposal can be divided into two parts: the first one establishes an objective criterion for the sharing of the burden of combating climate change in terms of the responsibility of each country for generating the problem, and the second one proposes the creation of a clean development fund raised with fines paid by the countries that do not comply with their targets established in the Protocol, such resources would be used in projects aiming at the reduction of emissions in the developing countries, allowing for the growth of these countries in a cleaner way in terms of global warming and contributing to the deceleration of the problem.

In the Brazilian proposal, the sharing of the burden is made by adding up the anthropogenic emissions of each greenhouse gas emitted by each country as of an initial year (such as 1850, associated to the beginning of the industrial revolution) taking into account the different decay times of each gas, and to each concentration level thus obtained the correspondent increase in the mean temperature of the earth's surface caused by such emissions in a given period of time is estimated. Therefore each country would be responsible for a fraction of the increase in the global temperature, as a direct consequence of their historical emissions. This would make the discussion of the problem easier, as it would only be necessary to discuss how much we want to reduce the increase in the mean temperature of the earth's surface in a given period and the way to share the burden would automatically be determined.

The proposal poses obvious difficulties: it is difficult to understand for involving several physical concepts and mathematical calculations that are not trivial and are inherent to the complexity of the problem of global warming and, therefore, as one could expect, are very difficult to be assimilated in the negotiation environment, where the discussion process is political and carried out by diplomats.

However, surprisingly enough, the Brazilian proposal was a success. Its scientific part, as proposed by the Brazilian delegation and accepted unanimously in the Conference, was submitted to the analysis of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice of the Convention, an initial step for its in- depth analysis. Besides, as proposed by the Chinese delegation, the scientific part of the Brazilian proposal will also be analyzed by another scientific forum, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). And the part of the Brazilian proposal creating the clean development fund was also accepted and modified to compose the Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol, which establishes the Clean Development Mechanism, on which we will comment in a future e&e edition.

But the Brazilian performance was not limited to the discussion of the items included in our proposal. The performance of the delegation was important to avoid the introduction in the Protocol of two controversial issues: forests managed as sinks (accounting for emission abatement) and the acceptance of voluntary commitments by developing countries.

The sinks issue was discussed a lot, mainly with regard to the use of forests as absorbers of CO2 from the atmosphere, which more than justifies its inclusion in the Protocol. The option for investing in carbon sequestration would increase the flexibility of countries in complying with their targets either by reducing their emissions or increasing their sinks, that is, increasing the way by which the country removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, which implies in reducing the net increase (emissions minus removals) of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, helping to combat climate change.

Difficulties with this issue began when some countries proposed defining any forest as sinks, provided that they were "managed ", a concept that is difficult to define and even more difficult to verify. The Brazilian delegation argued that this would represent a great risk to the Convention because there would be the possibility that credits would be granted in the Protocol (reducing emissions) for absorption made by native forests, a reduction that would not be related to any anthropogenic activity. Brazil argues that the Convention only deals with anthropogenic emissions and removals and it would not make sense to claim credits for natural removals, either by native forests, or by the oceans. Besides, this position is ethically justifiable since Brazil, for having most of the Amazon Forest in its territory and comprising a great Atlantic coast, could benefit from this concept in the case a wide interpretation of the problem of the sinks were adopted in Kyoto. The Brazilian position prevailed and the sinks considered were limited, in a way that only reforestation and planted forests can grant credits in the Protocol. However this issue will continue to be discussed in the next Conferences of the Parties.

Nevertheless, the most politically delicate issue was the proposal that developing countries accepted voluntary commitments, Article 10 of the initial proposals for the Protocol that were presented, which was eventually rejected and was not included in the final text approved in Kyoto.

The rejected Article 10 was an attempt of the American delegation to respond to a determination of the North American Congress (Resolution 98) that declares that Congress would not ratify any Protocol that did not include similar commitments for key countries like China, India and Brazil.

The position of many developing countries was contrary to this proposal since the adoption of commitments for developing countries in the Protocol, even if voluntary, was not determined in the Berlin Mandate and could represent, in practice, the establishment of new conditionalities for the implementation of future projects financed by international financing bodies in these countries.

Moreover, the adoption of commitments by the developing countries would represent a setback in terms of the Convention, which recognizes, by means of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, that all countries are responsible for climate change, but historically the industrialized countries should bear the greatest responsibility and take the lead in combating climate change.

The Brazilian position was made very clear in the speech by H.E. Minister of Science and Technology, Mr. José Israel Vargas, when he stated that "The credibility (of the Convention) can only be obtained in this phase if the reductions accepted here are actually carried out and verified over a reasonable period of time." The Minister continued his speech asserting that "The differentiation of responsibilities for global warming does have a time dimension, and it should not be required from developing countries that they establish targets for themselves before the actions of Annex I countries show that they are complying with the reduction commitments that they adopt here."

It is the Brazilian position that developing countries should only participate effectively in the combat to global warming when the developed countries demonstrate that they are effectively reducing their emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol has been open for signature since March 16, 1998. And to entry into force it depends on the ratification of 55 countries including Annex I countries accounting for 55% of the emissions of this group in 1990.

This will be a difficult task if the great emitters do not ratify (only the United States account for 36% of the CO2 emissions of 1990, considering the emissions only from the energy and cement sectors!).

We can conclude that Brazil was one of the protagonists in Kyoto and that, far from being concluded, these discussions are just in an initial stage, which makes us foresee new and inflamed discussions at the 4th Conference of the Parties of the Climate Convention to be held in November, 1998 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where all these issues will be debated again.