A carbon fix?

By Fred Pearce A PROPOSAL unveiled in Bonn last week could break the current deadlock in climate change negotiations. Instead of asking developing countries to accept absolute limits on emissions, the new plan requires them to improve the carbon efficiency of their economies. Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, rich industrialised nations agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2010. Developing nations, however, were not set formal emission limits, but the US is insisting that some of these countries accept targets before it cuts its own emissions. The developing countries, however, argue that fixed emissions limits would unfairly stifle their economic growth. The new scheme, proposed by environmental policy analysts, would require developing countries to reduce the amount of carbon produced per dollar of their gross national product, rather than to meet absolute limits. With no fixed ceiling for emissions, the countries’ economic growth should not be impeded. Nancy Kete of the World Resources Institute in Washington DC, and one of the architects of the plan, says it could break the deadlock that threatens to wreck the Kyoto Protocol. “We have support among many national delegations, including people within the US team,” she says. Delegates from Mexico and South Korea—two countries believed to be high on the US’s target list of those that should adopt targets—were expected to join Kete at the launch of the proposal during international climate negotiations in Bonn. The meeting is the latest attempt to devise detailed rules for implementing the Kyoto Protocol. Kete hopes the final agreement, scheduled for late next year, will include carbon-efficiency targets for developing countries. A few developing countries are already on the right road. China, for example, has reduced the amount of carbon produced per dollar of its economy by 47 per cent over the past 20 years, through measures intended to cut urban pollution. But others are heading in the wrong direction. India’s carbon production per dollar has increased by 29 per cent since 1980, while Malaysia’s has soared by 58 per cent. Some campaigners have criticised the scheme, however. “It is chasing moonbeams,” says Aubrey Meyer of the Global Commons Institute in London, who wants targets based on population size, “If we do not set absolute limits on emissions, we are ignoring the physics of global warming.” But Kete points out that the proposal has the advantage of reducing the scope for trading in rights to emit greenhouse gases. Under present plans, developing countries would receive fixed targets above their current emissions levels to allow for economic growth. Rich nations could buy this excess capacity,
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