The meeting was billed as an unglamorous follow-up to last year's Kyoto conference, and so it transpired. The major political interest centred on an issue not even on the formal agenda - the possibility that developing countries might accede to US demands for voluntary commitments to limit their greenhouse gas emissions.
The meeting's key formal output was agreement on a plan of action which lists a range of key issues to be decided by the next-but-one conference of parties, to be held in late 2000. Parties agreed to finalise rules for the Kyoto protocol to enable it to become "fully operational" shortly after 2000 and give it a strong compliance regime, and to boost work on technology transfer to developing countries.
Elements in the action plan include the Kyoto protocol "flexible mechanisms," now renamed the "Kyoto mechanisms," of emissions trading between developed countries, joint implementation between developed and developing countries and the clean development mechanism.
Developed countries failed to bridge a deep divide over rules to govern the Kyoto mechanisms. The EU maintained its call for domestic action to be the main route to compliance and for the mechanisms' "supplemental" nature to be clearly defined in this context through strict ceilings on their use. Meanwhile, the "umbrella group," led by the USA but also including Switzerland and Norway, opposed limits on the use of trading and the other mechanisms.
The EU nevertheless welcomed the outcome of talks on the issue, claiming to have won a "solid promise" that supplementarity, ceilings and "policies and measures" to address the climate change issue would now be discussed.
A political divide between the G-77 group of developing countries and the USA stole many of the headlines without even being on the agenda at Buenos Aires. Responding to US demands for "meaningful participation" by developing countries before it will ratify the Kyoto protocol, Argentina pledged to adopt a voluntary greenhouse gas limitation target at next year's conference. Kazakhstan later followed suit. Shortly after the Argentinean announcement, the US signed the protocol.
Meanwhile, developing countries won a pledge of stronger international support through the Global Environment Facility to plan measures to adapt to adverse impacts of climate change.
UN climate change convention secretariat, tel: +49 228 815 1000.
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