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Transitional countries best at reducing greenhouse gases

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 24 November 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:1226
  1. Grainger Laffan
  1. Bonn

    The world's production of climate changing greenhouse gasses has fallen in the past 15 years but is still not meeting all the targets set by the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, says the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

    Greenhouse gas emissions from the developed countries that were signatories to the Kyoto protocol fell by 5.9% between 1990 and 2003, the secretariat of the convention announced. Many of the countries with economies in a transitional phase have done the best.

    Announcing the data ahead of the 11th annual UN climate change conference in Montreal next week, the secretariat said that although most of the countries were exceeding their targets, some of the more industrialised nations were still falling short of agreed targets.

    Spain was the worst offender, with greenhouse gas emissions increasing by 41.7% rather than the 15% target agreed in the Kyoto protocol. In comparison, Lithuania reduced emissions by 66.2%, well ahead of the goal of an 8% reduction. The United Kingdom recorded a 13% drop, just ahead of the targeted 12.5% fall.

    Notable absentees from the Kyoto protocol discussions to be held at the Montreal conference will be the United States and Australia. Both countries are members of the climate change treaty adopted in 1992 but have consistently refused to join the 156 countries that ratified the protocol in 1997.

    UNFCCC officials expect up to 10 000 participants at the conference to mark the Kyoto protocol coming into force in February of this year. Although 2005 was originally agreed as the year for renegotiation of many of the Kyoto goals, officials who unveiled the data this week in Germany warned that talks will mainly be about adopting the architecture of the Kyoto protocol, with new targets unlikely to be discussed.

    Acting head of the UNFCCC, Richard Kinley, said, “I want to be clear that the issue of new targets or new commitments is not on agenda in Montreal, but the discussion process is moving forward with urgency to deal with the problem.”

    UNFCCC officials stopped short of quantifying the cost of maintaining the Kyoto protocol and placing a figure on greenhouse gas limits.

    When asked how much money was needed to help developing countries adapt to the Kyoto requirements, spokesman Gao Feng said, “Developing countries need huge money, this is all I can give.”

    Also when asked what the accepted limit of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere should be set at, spokesman Halldor Thorgeirsson said that the answer was unquantifiable, “The advice that we received is this is a value judgment. At this point we cannot ascribe a value.”

    Although climate change that affects extreme weather conditions remains the main focus for proponents of greenhouse gas reductions, the negative health effects of increased emissions has also been recognised as an important consideration by the World Heath Organization.

    WHO blames up to 150 000 deaths and 5 million illnesses each year on increasing global temperatures and warns that the figure is likely to double by the year 2030, listing extremes of heat and cold plus increased smog and airborne pollutants as potential causes of fatal illnesses.

    A July 2005 WHO report said, “Abnormally high temperatures in Europe in the summer of 2003 were associated with at least 27 000 more deaths than the equivalent period in previous years.”

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