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Industrialized countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2%


Kyoto, 11 December 1997 - After 10 days of tough negotiations, ministers and other high-level officials from 160 countries reached agreement this morning on a legally binding Protocol under which industrialized countries will reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2%.


The agreement aims to lower overall emissions from a group of six greenhouse gases by 2008-12, calculated as an average over these five years. Cuts in the three most important gases - carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N20) - will be measured against a base year of 1990. Cuts in three long-lived industrial gases - hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) - can be measured against either a 1990 or 1995 baseline.


If compared to expected emissions levels for the year 2000, the total reductions required by the Protocol will actually be about 10%; this is because many industrialized countries have not succeeded in meeting their earlier non-binding aim of returning their emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000, and their emissions have in fact risen since 1990. Compared to the emissions levels that would be expected by 2010 without emissions-control measures, the Protocol target represents a 30% cut. The Protocol should therefore send a powerful signal to business that it needs to accelerate the delivery of climate-friendly products and services.


"This agreement will have a real impact on the problem of greenhouse gas emissions," says Ambassador Raul Estrada-Oyuela of Argentina, who chaired the ad hoc committee which conducted most of the talks. "Today should be remembered as the Day of the Atmosphere."


The 5.2% reduction in total developed country emissions will be realized through national reductions of 8% by Switzerland, many Central and East European states, and the European Union (the EU will achieve its target by distributing differing reduction rates to its member states); 7% by the US; and 6% by Canada, Hungary, Japan, and Poland. Russia, New Zealand, and Ukraine are to stabilize their emissions, while Norway may increase emissions by up to 1%, Australia by up to 8%, and Iceland 10%.


The agreement grants countries a certain degree of flexibility in how they make and measure their emissions reductions. In particular, a "clean development mechanism" will enable industrialized countries to finance emissions-reduction projects in developing countries and receive credit for doing so. An international "emissions trading" regime will be established allowing industrialized countries to buy and sell excess emissions credits amongst themselves. The operational details for these schemes must still be elaborated.


"The Kyoto Protocol provides for real and significant greenhouse gas reductions," says Michael Zammit Cutajar, Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Change Convention. "The key now is to put into place effective national policies to influence the behavior of industry and consumers. We must also ensure that each country makes the bulk of its reductions through its domestic energy, industry, and transport sectors, and not abroad via the international emissions trading system and other flexibility provisions."


In addition to reductions from various industrial and economic sectors, carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation and carbon dioxide reductions resulting from newly planted trees (which act as carbon "sinks" by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere) will also be factored into the equation.


The Protocol encourages governments to pursue emissions reductions by improving energy efficiency, reforming the energy and transportation sectors, protecting forests and other carbon "sinks", promoting renewable forms of energy, phasing out inappropriate fiscal measures and market imperfections, and limiting methane emissions from waste management and energy systems.


It creates new incentives for technological creativity and the adoption of "no-regrets" solutions that make economic and environmental sense irrespective of climate change. Because activities and products with zero or low emissions will gain a competitive advantage, the energy, transport, industrial, housing, and agricultural sectors will gradually move towards more climate-friendly technologies and practices. Individuals, communities, and companies will need to play an active role in this transition if the emissions reductions promised by governments are to be achieved.


The current meeting in Kyoto was attended by almost 10,000 participants, including 2,200 official delegates and thousands of observors from non-governmental organizations and the media. The Protocol will be opened for signature for one year from 16 March 1998. It will enter into force after it has been ratified by at least 55 countries representing 55% of the total 1990 emissions from developed countries.


Following a series of preparatory meetings in Bonn next June, the fourth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP4) will be held in Buenos Aires from 2 - 13 November 1998.


Note to journalists: For more information, please contact Michael Williams in Kyoto until 11 December at (+81-20) 2290209, or from 12 December contact the Information Unit for Conventions in Geneva at (+41-22) 979 9242/44, fax (+41-22) 797 3464, e-mail mwilliams@unep.ch. Official documents and other materials are available in English on the Internet at http://www.unfccc.de.