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30 July 2001

"Honour Kyoto!" watchword for WCC delegation at climate change conference

cf. WCC Press Release, PR-01-24, of 16 July 2001
cf. WCC Press Release, PR-01-14, of 15 June 2001
cf. WCC Press Update, Up-01-08, of 30 March 2001

"Honour Kyoto!" said the badge Bonnie Wright from Zimbabwe had pinned to her jacket. For Wright and other members of a World Council of Churches' (WCC) delegation to the 16-27 July climate conference (Conference of the Parties, COP6 Part 2) in Bonn, the slogan said it all; their biggest fear was possible collapse of the Kyoto Protocol following President Bush's decision to take the USA out of the agreement. The Bonn conference was a continuation of one held in The Hague in November last year.

The document adopted by the Parties at the 1997 Kyoto Climate Summit for the first time laid down binding measures and targets for the reduction of CO2 emissions by industrialized states. So far, however, none of the major industrial nations has allowed itself to be bound by these obligations; to date, 84 Parties have signed the Protocol but only 37, mainly developing countries, have ratified it.

Like all the other non-governmental organizations in Bonn, the WCC delegation - a core group of five people from Argentina, the Netherlands, USA, Russia and Zimbabwe - was not admitted to the official debates. Contacts with official delegates in the lobbies were their way of finding out about the state of the negotiations and presenting the WCC's position.

Negotiations about the compromise proposal put forward by COP president Jan Pronk reached a crucial point on Sunday evening. Tension about the outcome was reflected in participants' faces. Nevertheless, Michael Grubb, a European Union representative, found time for a long conversation with the WCC delegation. Grubb is a scientist and author of a book The Kyoto Protocol: A guide and assessment. Larissa Skuratovskaya, a WCC delegation member from Russia, had managed to arrange for this study to be translated into Russian. She was even able to persuade Ambassador Raul Estrada-Oyuela from Argentina, an important mediator in the climate conferences, to write a preface to it. Despite the tense atmosphere on Sunday evening, Estrada made time during a break in the negotiations to receive a copy of the Russian version from Larissa Skuratovskaya.

Wrangling over the compromise came to a head on Monday 23 July. In the morning the WCC delegates met to consult. They knew that the government representatives had spent two nights discussing the "Pronk paper" and that the decision about it was due that day. Fearing that the proposed compromise and hence the Kyoto Protocol would fail, when at noon the government representatives approved the compromise after all, a weight was lifted from their hearts. "I am really happy about this decision," said delegation leader Elias Abramides from Argentina. "It's the best that could be hoped for under the circumstances. Ratification of the Kyoto Protocol is still not beyond the bounds of possibility."

Wright was more sceptical: "My heart goes out to the developing countries. I know they had to make many concessions. This compromise is a political victory, but it won't do much for the environment. For Africa it would have been important to have the USA on board. It is the world's biggest producer of CO2 and its financial contributions to the fund for developing countries would be very important." But she too was happy that international efforts for climate protection will continue even without the USA.

So she wholeheartedly congratulated Jan Pronk on his work when she saw him at a social function the next evening. But "Stay on the alert!" was his answer. For the difficulties were by no means over, and euphoria about the agreement soon evaporated. Although the environment ministers gave the Pronk paper the go-ahead on Monday, it was not formally adopted by the delegates until two days later - after long negotiations with Russia, reluctant in the end to agree unconditionally.

Time and again, the WCC delegates sensed that COP6 Part 2 was not first and foremost about protecting the climate. "When all's said and done, it's always only about money," said Wright. Abramides saw a very important task for the WCC here: "We must never stop repeating our message of ethics, justice and love." "If we didn't keep referring to the aspect of justice in these negotiations, then I don't know who would," added Larissa Skuratovskaya.

William Somplatsky-Jarman, WCC delegate from the USA, believes it is important to stress the good side of the Bonn agreement. "President Bush will certainly call it worthless. So we have to make people see what has been gained by it and why it is a good and important document. For example, the fact that nuclear energy cannot be used as a measure to reduce CO2 is a great step forward," he argued. For Somplatsky-Jarman, the real work would begin after Bonn. "It is very important that we as the WCC stay involved in the process. The churches now have to work to make sure the Kyoto Protocol actually becomes a reality," he said. The slogan "Honour Kyoto!" applies to them, too.

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 342, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.