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In Depth

Kyoto and beyond

The Montreal Climate Change Conference

Last Updated December 12, 2005

Climate change experts are far-sighted. They are thinking 20, 30, 40 years into the future. So with the Kyoto Protocol expiring in 2012, there's a sense of urgency when it comes to reducing the emissions that are cited as causing climate change.

That's why the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change organized the Montreal Climate Change Conference, which was held between Nov. 28 and Dec. 9, 2005.

The UN-organized conference gathered all the parties in the Kyoto Protocol – and then some. Approximately 190 nations were represented by the 8,000 delegates – the largest intergovernmental climate gathering since 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. That's when 146 countries promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

It all boils down to gas emissions. Power plants, factories and personal vehicles emit a mixture of gases that trap heat in Earth's atmosphere, hence the term global warming.

This gradual warming of Earth's atmosphere is not a good thing. It translates into the melting of glaciers, droughts becoming more common, and new hurricane patterns being formed.

On Nov. 30, the Montreal conference officially adopted the rules and regulations of the Kyoto Protocol. That act gave teeth to the protocol, making it "one of the most powerful treaties ever negotiated by any multilateral body," Steve Sawyer, an expert on climate and energy policy for Greenpeace International told CBC.ca.

The rules spell out how emissions will be reported and verified, and give industrial nations credit if they help developing countries produce clean energy.

They also set out the terms for emissions trading, which means countries that produce too much greenhouse gas can buy credits from those that are under their limit.

"You go to a carbon broker and you say, 'I want to buy a hundred megatons of carbon. Can you find partners to offer me that?' And the carbon brokers will go around, just like they're shopping for money or a car," said delegate Bill Hare, a member of Greenpeace International.

Greenpeace has historically opposed carbon trading, preferring that nations first work at reducing domestic emissions. But the group says it has recognized that carbon trading is the only way for Kyoto to move ahead, and allow countries like Japan, Canada and Australia to meet emissions-reduction targets.

A day later, environmental activists put the threat of global warming into terms Canadians could understand. If nothing's done, they warned, it's the end of lacing on a pair of skates and playing hockey on an outdoor rink.

Taking it beyond Kyoto

But as the conference progressed, it looked as though it would end without a deal on going beyond Kyoto, on continuing the process of reducing greenhouse gases after 2012.

That changed in the early hours of Dec. 10 after the conference was supposed to officially wrap up. A deal was worked out, an agreement that is being called "the Montreal Action Plan."

"This is a major, major deal and a major historic day, to see this agreement going ahead," said Catherine Pearce, a climate change campaigner with Friends of the Earth International.

The new agreement extends the life of the 1997 Kyoto treaty, which came into effect on Feb. 16, 2005.

It legally bound participating developed countries to cut their combined greenhouse gas emissions to five per cent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

In another significant step, a number of countries that did not ratify Kyoto – including Australia and the United States – have agreed to non-binding talks on a climate-change agreement that will eventually replace Kyoto.

Among the deal's highlights:

  • A call for binding commitments to cut greenhouse emissions beyond 2012 when the current Kyoto Protocol expires.
  • A working group of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol will report to each annual session of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, Kyoto's parent treaty.
  • Members would have seven years to negotiate and ratify accords by the time the first phase ends in 2012.

The deal does not set emissions reductions targets for developing countries like China and India, but provides mechanisms through which they can get access to clean technology and financing for climate-friendly projects.

Beyond Kyoto is scheduled to get on track in May 2006, when officials are to meet to begin to carry out the "Montreal Action Plan."

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