I am pleased to have the opportunity to report to the House on the third conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. I pay tribute to the officials of my Department and the official from the Department of Public Enterprise for their hard work and commitment to looking after our interests in Kyoto. This was commented on not only by the media people present, but by people at European Council level. I appreciate their endeavours during the ten days of the conference.
Two weeks ago, Environment Ministers and representatives of more than 170 countries gathered in Kyoto to respond to the growing threat of climate change influenced by human activity and recognised this as the greatest environmental challenge facing us. Climate change involves all countries. It requires responses from Governments, economic sectors and society. It brings us face to face with the real meaning of sustainable development — the balance between environment and development which we must secure today to sustain future generations.
This third meeting of the conference of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Kyoto was an important step in a process that started in the 1980s. The process reflects a growing scientific consensus that human activity is having an adverse effect on climate. In response to the emerging evidence that climate change could have a major global impact, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. Ireland signed the convention in Rio and ratified it in April 1994.
The ultimate objective of the convention is the stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. The convention recognises that developed countries should take the lead in combating climate change. It calls on these countries to aim to return, individually or jointly, to 1990 levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2000; to adopt policies and measures to mitigate climate change; and to provide technology transfer and financial resources to help developing countries.
Ratification of the convention by a large number of parties, and its entry into force, was remarkably rapid, reflecting the seriousness attached to climate change throughout the world. However, a view quickly emerged that the convention commitments were inadequate and needed to be strengthened. Accordingly, at the first conference of the parties in Berlin in April 1995, a negotiating process to strengthen the convention was established. This was to focus on additional commitments to be entered into by the developed world for the post-2000 era.
The need for additional action and stronger commitments was underpinned by the second assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This report concludes that the balance of evidence suggests there is a discernible human influence on climate change, and unless urgent action is taken, global temperature will rise by about 2 degree centigrade by 2100. This would mean an average rate of warming greater than any seen since the end of the last Ice Age and a 50 centimetre rise in sea level. The second assessment report clearly demonstrates that intensified action to abate climate change is needed. If allowed to occur, change of the magnitude indicated would have profound consequences for human health, food security, water resources and coastal areas. It would impact heavily on global security and our economies. The conclusions of the second assessment report have been widely accepted by the world community and were noted by the second conference of the parties to the convention in July 1996 as an urgent basis for finalising the negotiations to strengthen the convention's commitments It was against this background that the third conference of the parties took place in Kyoto from 1 to 11 December 1997, to conclude the negotiations commenced in Berlin two and a half years earlier. Throughout the negotiating process, and at Kyoto, the European Union took a lead role among developed country parties, seeking to ensure the most ambitious outcome possible. The EU also wished to avoid a situation where additional flexibilities in the terms of the protocol could dilute the commitment to real action to reduce emissions.
The outcome at Kyoto is, necessarily, a compromise. It is, however, a considerable step forward, having regard to the low level of ambition associated with some opening positions by developed country parties. Kyoto provides a foundation on which future action can be intensified. It establishes, for the first time, legally binding targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It also confirms the capacity of the international community to co-operate in action to deal with a major global environmental problem. The alternative to agreement at Kyoto would have been an admission that we are not prepared to tackle climate change on the global basis that is necessary. That would be a serious setback for a process which depends on global commitment and needs to be advanced steadily and progressively into the future.
The centrepiece of the protocol is the legally binding commitments of developed countries to reduce, individually or jointly, emissions of six greenhouse gases in the period 2008 to 2012 to below their 1990 level. The targets agreed will result in an overall reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries in the period 2008 to 2012 of more than 5 per cent below I990 levels. Bearing in mind that in a "business as usual" scenario emissions in that period are projected to be some 30 per cent above 1990 levels, it is clear that the reduction targets adopted are demanding. While the overall reduction will be in excess of 5 per cent, the targets applicable to individual parties vary somewhat.
The EU and the associated countries are committed to — 8 per cent reduction, the US is committed to — 7 per cent, Japan to — 6 per cent, while others, such as Russia and Australia, are committed to stabilisation or growth limitation targets. The EU's — 8 per cent reduction target will apply to the Union as a whole. The Union's internal arrangements for achieving the target will be the subject of an agreement under article 4 of the protocol which provides for parties jointly to meet an emissions commitment.
The outcome in relation to targets is, I think, positive and encouraging. This is particularly so when one considers the starting position of, for example, the US and Japan who sought stabilisation and a small — 2.5 per cent reduction, respectively. The agreement secured on reduction targets is in no small measure due to the strong role played by the EU and the headline it set with its proposals for a 15 per cent reduction.
The protocol also provides for the promotion of sinks to absorb CO 2, the establishment of an emissions trading regime, joint implementation and the adoption of policies and measures. In relation to sinks, the protocol will require parties which have directly ensured afforestation, reforestation and deforestation since 1990 to offset the amount of carbon sequestered in these sinks against their target. This is a restricted approach to the counting of sinks, linked very clearly to quantifiable human action. There is also provision for the inclusion of additional sinks related to human activities once rules, modalities and guidelines for these additional sinks are agreed at a future conference of the parties, taking into account uncertainties, transparency and verifiability. While sinks will help some parties to meet their targets, it must be recognised that they cannot provide a long-term offset against continuing emissions from fossil fuels.
Emissions trading between counties with defined targets is allowed in principle under the protocol. Provision for emissions trading was a critical element for several parties, but during all stages of the negotiations the EU sought to ensure that trading would not become a major loophole. The requirements that trading may be supplemental only to domestic action and that relevant principles, modalities, rules and guidelines will be defined by the conference of the parties, reflect the concerns of the EU in this regard.
Because of the importance many parties attach to resolving this issue prior to their ratification of the protocol, I expect the next conference of the parties in Buenos Aires will decide on the necessary principles, modalities and rules to allow for emissions trading. Provision is also made in the protocol for parties with defined targets to share reduction credits where one party invests in a project in the territory of another with the aim of reducing emissions or enhancing sinks. Such projects could, for example, be investments in energy efficiency or high efficiency power plants and the credits involved would reflect the savings in emissions accruing on account of the investment.
Separate provision is made for a clean development mechanism. This will allow developed country parties to gain reduction credits for investments in appropriate projects in the developing world. This is similar to joint implementation between developed country parties, but additional safeguards and provisions attach to the clean development mechanism. These are the following: the projects must assist developing country parties to achieve sustainable development; the mechanism will be subject to the authority and guidance of the conference of the parties to the protocol, which will elaborate modalities and procedures for the whole process and independent certification of reductions must be achieved. This mechanism, the details of which remain to be worked out, provides an incentive for the provision of additional financial support and technology transfer to developing countries to facilitate their participation in global efforts to control climate change.
In relation to sinks, emissions trading and joint implementation, the EU was particularly concerned to ensure the provisions on these matters would not allow parties to avoid their responsibilities. The EU secured a good measure of success in this regard. It will now be a priority at EU level to actively pursue the further elaboration of the rules and modalities which the protocol provides for in these matters. At a meeting of the European Council of Environment Ministers earlier this week it was indicated that work would start between the Presidency and the Commission to bring forward proposals in this area for the March Council meeting.
In achieving their targets and commitments and to promote sustainable development, developed country parties will be obliged to adopt a range of policies and measures in accordance with national circumstances. The areas involved include enhanced energy efficiency, protection and enhancement of sinks, renewable energy, promotion of sustainable agriculture, reduction and phasing out of fiscal incentives for fossil fuel use and reduction of transport emissions. Co-operation between parties to enhance the effectiveness of individual action is encouraged, and the conference of the parties may consider ways and means to elaborate the co-ordination of such policies and measures, should it decide this would be beneficial.
I acknowledge this provision is not as strong as the EU would have wished, for example, in relation to mandatory effect and mechanisms for international co-ordination. However, I am satisfied the requirements of the protocol nonetheless represent a step beyond the framework convention and provide a basis for further development in the future.
To emphasise that the protocol is another stage in what will be a long and ongoing process, it is worth noting that provision is made for the second meeting of the parties under the protocol to review it in the light of best scientific information and assessments of climate change and its impacts and relevant technical, social and economic information. This will provide a relatively early opportunity to reassess the commitments made in Kyoto and to ensure that the global momentum to deal with climate change is maintained and accelerated.
I have now outlined the main elements of the protocol. Coming into the negotiations, however, the issue of developing country commitments was a major concern for some developed country parties. In the negotiations, developing countries were successful in their insistence that the terms of the Berlin Mandate be respected, that is, that no new commitments for developing countries be included in the protocol. They also prevented the inclusion of a provision whereby developing countries would voluntarily take on emission limitation commitments. While some parties pressed for meaningful participation of key developing countries through the assumption of binding obligations, the EU regarded this as unhelpful. If it had been insisted on, we probably would not have had such a successful outcome. I hope the provision for joint implementation through the clean development mechanism will provide a sufficient basis for all parties to proceed towards ratification.
The Kyoto protocol presents a challenge and an opportunity for Ireland. We are part of the most ambitious position taken at Kyoto. In my address to the plenary session I indicated the areas in which we have already intensified our action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. I acknowledged, however, that efforts to date, globally and nationally, have not been enough to ensure reasonable progress towards the ultimate objective of the convention. Like others, we were there to state our ambition for the future and to define the means to achieve it. I underlined that our vision for the future must be matched by action now.
Over the next six months or so the EU will review all the implications of the Kyoto outcome. This will include the burden sharing for member states involved in joint achievement of the legally binding 8 per cent reduction target adopted in Kyoto. As I have indicated, the minus 8 per cent reduction target applies to the EU as a whole. The internal EU burden sharing arrangement must be finalised in the coming months so that the Union and its member states will be in a position to sign and, in due course, ratify the protocol. In doing so, the EU must take account of the inclusion of three additional gases in the overall basket of gases covered by the protocol. In the context of the determination of the EU position for the Kyoto negotiations, Ireland adopted an indicative national target of limiting the growth in emissions of the three main greenhouse gases in the period up to 2010 to 15 per cent above their 1990 level. It is my intention to adhere to this level of ambition.
Once the EU burden sharing arrangements are finalised, the Union and member states will be in a position, as required under the protocol, to notify the other parties of the terms of the agreement and to proceed to ratification. The growth limitation target for Ireland set out in the EU agreement will then become our target under the protocol.
I acknowledge the hard work done by the Department officials on behalf of the Government at Kyoto. The EU adopted a unified position and at its recent meeting the Council reiterated its determination to be ambitious in this area. I thank the House for the opportunity to make this statement and I would welcome another chance to discuss it further at the Oireachtas committee in the new year.
I wish to share my time with the Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise, Deputy Jacob.