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Kyoto takes effect


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Climate warnings, pressure on US as Kyoto takes effect

AFP: 2/16/2005

PARIS, Feb 16 (AFP) - Celebrations to mark the birth of the UN's Kyoto Protocol mingled Wednesday with warnings about climate change and renewed appeals for the United States, the biggest single source of greenhouse gas, to take action.

In a message to ceremonies in Kyoto, the Japanese city where the landmark environmental treaty was agreed in 1997, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan branded global warming "one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century."

"By itself, the Protocol will not save humanity from the dangers of climate change," Annan said. "So let us celebrate, but let us not be complacent ... there is no time to lose."

The European Union, which rescued the Protocol after a US walkout in 2001, hailed Kyoto's enactment but said it was only a first step towards tackling a worsening and destabilising peril.

"Climate change is a threat not only to our environment, but also to our security," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in a statement issued in Brussels.

"The international community has recognised this threat and is implementing a global strategy to counter it. Kyoto represents a concrete example of effective multilateralism in action."

The head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Klaus Toepfer, said scientific evidence showed the Earth's surface was warming faster than previously thought.

Solar heat was being trapped by carbon gas spewed by fossil fuels -- and this was already damaging the climate system.

The reports "make terrifying reading, a vision of a planet spinning out of control," Toepfer said. "I certainly hope that these new calculations are proven wrong. However, it seems many of the past theoretical forecasts are sadly coming home to pass."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed.

In three or four decades, climate change "is going to cause difficulty, if not catastrophe," Blair said on British television.

Kyoto finally took effect on Wednesday after a gestation of more than seven years in which nations wrangled over its rulebook and then its ratification.

It has the support of 141 countries but its future is clouded by a boycott by the biggest single emitter, the United States, which by itself accounts for more than a fifth of world pollution.

Kyoto does not require developing countries to make specific cuts in their carbon gas emissions. In recent years, populous fast-growing countries like China and India have become major polluters, thanks to surging use of oil, gas and coal to fuel their economies.

As a result, the industrialised parties to Kyoto -- which exclude the United States -- are likely to have reduced their emissions by only a couple of percent by 1990 levels when the treaty's present commitment period runs out in 2012. But in the meantime, global emissions will have continued to soar.

EU president Luxembourg called on "all developed countries that have not ratified the treaty to do so... particularly (...) the United States."

Blair -- Bush's closest political ally -- has made global warming a top issue during Britain's current presidency of the Group of Eight (G8).

"What I am trying to do later this year is to make sure we pull America back into a dialogue and put China and India alongside that and if we manage that I think we will get back on the right track," Blair said.

"If we made the investment in the science and technology now we could probably find that we could carry on consuming and our living standards growing without doing real damage to the environment," Blair added.

German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin, in a video address to Kyoto, said "We must also reincorporate the USA into the international climate protection process."

"The world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases must face up to its responsibility. It is unacceptable to me and for the climate that despite the same quality of living the annual per-capita emissions of greenhouse gases in the USA is two and a half times the level in Europe."

There was no early reaction from Washington on Kyoto's big day.

Australia, however, stood by its argument that it would be seriously disadvantaged by the pact.

"Until such times as the major polluters of the world, including the United States and China are made part of the Kyoto regime it is next to useless and indeed harmful for a country such as Australia to sign up for the Kyoto Protocol," Prime Minister John Howard told parliament.

Green groups reacted with delight that Kyoto, which was on its death bed less than four years ago, had survived, but cautioned that little time was left to deal with global warming because of the delays.

Greenpeace staged media-friendly demonstrations in Kyoto as well as Bonn, Moscow, Madrid, Helsinki, Sydney, Bangalore and Hong Kong to push for a switch to clean energy sources.


02/16/2005 16:34 GMT - AFP

Copyright © 2004 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.

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