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John Prescott: suspend the Kyoto protocol

02 December 2011, The Guardian
URL: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/02/john-prescott-suspend-kyoto-protocol


The former Labour minister says countries should 'stop the clock' on the agreement in order to continue negotiations on its future.

The Kyoto protocol should be suspended in order to safeguard its future, said one of the lead architects of the treaty, the former Labour minister John Prescott.

Instead of allowing the current provisions of the agreement to expire in 2012 - as they would under current law - countries should "stop the clock" in order to continue negotiations on its future, at United Nations climate change talks taking place this week and next in Durban.

Lord Prescott told the Guardian: "By stopping the clock, the Kyoto mechanisms, core principles, organisational structures and expertise will not expire and parties could continue to act as if the treaty were still in force while time is allowed for negotiations to finalise a new agreement." The Kyoto mechanisms also include include financial measures designed to give poor countries access to low-carbon technology.

Prescott said the practice of "stopping the clock" in negotiations had been effective in other forums, for instance in European Union wrangles over policy. His proposal has been adopted by the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, an influential group of parliamentarians from across Europe.

He accused rich country governments, in particular the US and Canada, of failing the world's poor, who will bear the brunt of the ill effects of global warming. "The rich countries of this world have thrown down the gauntlet to the poorest. They poisoned [developing countries] now they're trying to strangle them."

He added: "It's clear that the US and Canada don't care about the effects of climate change. They've been a disgrace. This is a conspiracy of the rich nations against the poor and Europe must continue to show inspirational leadership by being on the side of the developing world."

Prescott was one of the leaders of the European Union delegation at the 1997 climate talks where the Kyoto protocol was forged, emerging triumphant from a marathon negotiating session with an agreement that bound developed countries to overall cuts of about 5% in global emissions by 2012, compared with 1990 levels. But the treaty was immediately controversial, because developing countries including rapidly growing economies such as China, India and Brazil were spared the need to put any curbs on their emissions.

Despite 20 years of international talks on the climate, the Kyoto protocol is still the only international legally binding treaty that stipulates cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. But its future is in doubt, as several of the leading signatories – including Japan, Russia and Canada – have pulled out and the US will not join in, leaving only the European Union as the main developed country bloc still willing to extend its life. Talks on the future of the protocol are carrying on in Durban, though a resolution this year is unlikely.

Whether the Kyoto protocol is continued or not is a totemic issue for developing countries at the long-running talks. Poor nations want the developed world to pledge to a "second commitment period" for emissions cuts, to follow on when the current period expires next year. The issue was one of the breaking points at the abortive climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009, when world leaders were able to reach only a partial accord that did not guarantee the protocol's future.

However, some leading figures have called for governments to forget about the Kyoto protocol and move forward either with a wholly new treaty on the climate, under which developing countries would have obligations as well as industrialised nations, or by jettisoning hopes of a treaty altogether in favour of an voluntary system whereby individual countries and industries would take on their own targets on carbon.

Sir David King, the UK's former chief scientist, has been a leading advocate of this "bottom up" approach, terming it "muscular bilateralism" that would involve countries making commitments on carbon reductions without the overarching framework of an international treaty.

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