After Marrakech

Saleemul Huq reports on the outcome of COP-7 and outlines the principal issues still to be addressed.

Saleemul Huq is Director of the Climate Change Programme at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, United Kingdom.

The Seventh Conference of the Parties (COP-7) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Marrakech, Morocco, in November 2001. Saleemul Huq reports on the outcome of COP-7 and outlines the principal issues still to be addressed.

The meeting in Marrakech brought to a successful conclusion four years of intensive negotiations, primarily amongst the developed countries, on how to implement the Kyoto Protocol and the next phase of greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

At the Marrakech conference, all the developed countries – with the significant exception of the United States of America which had withdrawn from the Kyoto negotiations – agreed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol immediately. This should mean that, by the time of the World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2002, the Protocol can come into force. This requires ratification by 55 countries accounting for 55 per cent of global emissions.

With the major political decisions already made during the second half of the Sixth Conference of the Parties held in Bonn, Germany, in July 2001 (Tiempo, Issue 40/41, September 2001), there only remained a number of details to be worked out at COP-7 in Marrakech. The Marrakech meeting was, therefore, a relatively low-key one as COP meetings go.

Amongst the outstanding issues was the assignment of the exact amounts of sinks which would be allowed to be counted by some of the Annex 1 countries.

The Russian Federation, in particular, held out for an increase of the allowable limit for sinks in its country target. This proposal was supported by Japan, eager to use the Russian sinks to offset its own reduction target. Since the Kyoto Protocol would be unable to come into force without Russia and Japan, the other countries had to give in to last-minute hard bargaining by these nations. Russia’s sink allowance rose from 17 to 33 megatons of carbon.

Japan, Russia, Australia, Canada and their allies in the Umbrella Group, in fact, insisted on a high price for their continued involvement, with the European Union and the G77/China group forced to compromise on a number of issues, particularly those related to eligibility requirements for participation in the flexibility mechanisms.

On a more positive note, there was a solid resolution of outstanding technical points surrounding the development of the compliance regime, resulting in what has been described as “the most innovative and elaborate non-compliance procedure for any existing multilateral environment agreement.”

It seems likely that the compliance regime will be legally-binding, considerably strengthening the treay process. Parties to the Kyoto Protocol alone will effectively decide on the nature o f the regime, and the majority of these nations are are in favour of legally-binding consequences. Moreover, elegibility for participation in the flexibility mechanisms is subject to Parties ratifying the agreement on compliance.

The position of the United States in Marrakech seemed to be somewhat laid-back. Having already stated that they would not participate in discussions around the Kyoto Protocol they did not interfere in those deliberations but did actively take part in other discussions under the Convention. There is some speculation that the United States may put in place some national (or hemispheric) activities on emissions reductions in parallel with Kyoto with a view to joining at a later date.

Another important issue which was discussed and then agreed on was the setting up of the system of international trading of greenhouse gas reductions, especially between the developing and developed countries through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The meeting agreed on the modalities of such trading and composition of the Clean Development Mechanism Board as well as fast-tracking some smaller-scale CDM projects to kick-start the market.

© 2001 Lawrence Moore

Thus, by the end of the Marrakech meeting, the Parties to the climate treaty were able to come to an agreement on all major outstanding issues and it is likely that the Kyoto Protocol will now become a reality within the next year.

Cameroon, speaking on behalf of the Africa Group, argued that the Marrakech Declaration and Accords should result in the speedy implementation of the Kyoto Protocol and voiced high hopes regarding access to additional funding for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the benefits resulting from CDM projects.

“After several years of tough negotiation, the institutions and detailed procedures of the Kyoto Protocol are now in place. The next step is to test their effectiveness in overseeing the five-percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries over the next decade,” said Michael Zammit Cutajar, the Convention’s Executive Secretary. “The Marrakech results send a clear signal to business, local governments and the general public that climate-friendly products, services, and activities will be rewarded by consumers and national policies alike,” he continued.

The successful conclusion of the negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol, although undoubtedly one of the major achievements of the international process since the Rio Summit in 1992, nevertheless falls short on a number of counts to adequately solve the climate problem.

First, the total reductions which have been agreed – approximately five per cent reductions from 1990 levels for the developed countries as a whole to be met by about 2010 – fall far short of what is needed to prevent the worst predictions of climate change. Most scientific estimates suggest that carbon reductions of the order of 60 to 80 per cent are needed to prevent the climate system from changing significantly.

Second, the absence of the United States from the Kyoto Protocol process weakens it considerably, as the United States is by far the world’s single biggest greenhouse gas emitter, accounting for approximately 24 per cent of global emissions. The decision of the Bush Administration to remain outside the Protocol will be a major stumbling block to its ultimate effectiveness.

Finally, the role of the developing countries will need to be tackled, as they will also have to reduce the growth in their emissions of greenhouse gases in the future if the problem of climate change is to be minimized. Suitable arrangements to enable the developing countries to achieve economic growth with lower emissions must be incorporated into the next round of the negotiations.

There is another issue that warrants attention. The Kyoto Protocol and the Framework Convention are not exactly the same thing. With the emphasis placed on the Protocol and the limited range of issues that that subsidiary agreement covers, an important matter has been neglected. The Protocol focuses on the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases but, as noted above, this cannot solve the climate problem completely. Hence, countries will also have to deal with a changing climate even if the Protocol is fully implemented. The Climate Convention itself takes cognizance of the need for countries to take action to adapt, and it also recognizes the particular vulnerability of a number of developing countries.

To this end, the Marrakech meeting has agreed the setting up of two funds under the Climate Convention to deal with problems of adaptation and technology transfer, through the Climate Change Fund, and of the Least Developed Countries, through the Least Developed Countries Fund. Both funds are to be administered through the Global Environment Facility and will be based on voluntary contributions from the developed countries. Already, a number of developed countries, including Canada, the European Union and the Netherlands, have pledged to contribute in the order of US$ 410 million a year to these funds.

Following the Marrakech meeting, future negotiations will revolve around the ratification and implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. The negotiations must also increasingly pay attention to other issues covered by the climate treaty such as adaptation, technology transfer, and capacity building. In addition, the thorny issue of developing country targets for emission reductions will have to be tackled and negotiated. This will require a greater emphasis on equity and fairness including recognition of per capita rights to the atmosphere.

As well as finding ways to reduce emissions in the developed countries, it will be necessary to ensure transfer of clean technologies to the developing world so that they can develop on a non-greenhouse gas emitting pathway. The relationship between climate change and sustainable development will have to be closely examined. This will come more into focus as the World Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2002 approaches.

The Eighth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will be held from 23rd October to 1st November 2002, venue to be announced.

Further information
Saleemul Huq, International Institute for Environment and Development, 3 Endsleigh Street, London WC1H 0DD, UK. Fax: +44-20-73882826. Email: Web:

On the Web
Comment on the climate negotiations and news of ongoing developments can be accessed via the Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary Newswatch service. On the Web: The climate negotiations lists further links.