Zapatero asks UN to lead climate change battle

LAST UPDATED: 27 Sep, 2007 @ 15:13
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Zapatero asks UN to lead climate change battle

But can Spain meet Kyoto and EU emissions targets as PM promises?


AS Spain struggles to keep its greenhouse gas emissions in check, the country’s prime minister has asked a UN summit to “lead the battle on climate change.”

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero also promised Spain would meet its Kyoto protocol targets, which seeks to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases of its signees by 2012.

“The United Nations has to take the initiative and show its leadership in the climate change battle,” the leader of Spain’s socialist government told the summit in New York, before adding: “The need to reach a firm agreement on climate change is greater today than it ever was.”

Spain, which emitted 427 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2004, has encountered difficulties in lowering its own greenhouse gas output.

By 2012, the country needs to reduce its emissions to 15 per cent of its 1990 levels. However, its total emissions in 2006 were 49 per cent more than the 1990 level, meaning Spain is the greatest atmospheric polluter in the European Union.

“We are doing everything possible to reduce our emissions and meet our targets. For many years Spain did nothing but now we are going to do everything,” Zapatero said.

Last year, the country announced plans to offset its emissions by buying carbon credits from developing countries and by limiting the emissions on 1,000 of the country’s biggest companies.

During the summit, UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon also asked for aid to help the population of the world’s poorer countries, which are claimed to be the “innocent victims” of climate change.

“The terrible irony is that many developing countries have contributed the least to global warming yet are those that will suffer its consequences the most,” he said.

The UN will hold a conference on climate change in Bali in December.

Meanwhile, Spain has blamed its uncontrollable pollution levels on “economic growth.”

The population explosion coupled with a 67 per cent increase in the country’s GDP since 1990 has made it difficult for the country to meet its EU environmental obligations.

That is the conclusion of the Ministry of the Environment as it struggles to cap its emissions of greenhouses gases to comply with the continent’s directive on national emissions ceilings for atmospheric pollutants.

Spain has to reduce its output of nitrogen oxide to 847 thousand tonnes a year by 2010, a figure that currently stands at 1,406 tonnes.


It is faring better in its bid to meet its target of sulphur dioxide emissions, which have fallen from two million tonnes in 1990 to little more than one million last year. By 2010, its maximum output of this gas must not exceed 746 thousand tonnes.

The secretary general for the Prevention of Pollution and Climate Change, Arturo Gonzalo Aizpiri, believes demographic growth has made it difficult for Spain to meet all its 2010 targets.

“The population explosion that Spain has witnessed in recent years has no comparison in the EU. When these targets were first discussed, nobody could have predicted this,” he said.

The population of Spain was forecast to be little less than 41 million in 2010. However, it currently stands at 43 million.

Environmentalists find little to believe in the government’s argument, stating its difficulties in meeting its pollution targets are “the excuses of the bad payer.”

Ladislao Martínez, the energy spokesman for Ecologistas en Accion, added: “It is true population and the economy has grown more quickly than expected, but this does not justify the government’s difficulty in controlling pollution.”

What is the Kyoto protocol?
It is a pact agreed by governments at a 1997 United Nations conference in Kyoto, Japan, to reduce greenhouse gases emitted by developed countries to at least 5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. A total of 175 nations, including Spain, have ratified the pact.

Is it legally binding?
Kyoto has legal force from Feb. 16, 2005. It represents 61.6 percent of developed nations’ total emissions. The United States, the world’s biggest source of emissions, came out against the pact in 2001, reckoning it would be too expensive and wrongly omitted developing nations from a first round of targets to 2012.

How will it be enforced?
Countries overshooting their targets in 2012 will have to make both the promised cuts and 30 percent more in a second period from 2013.

What are these “greenhouses gases?”
Greenhouse gases trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. The main culprit is carbon dioxide, produced largely from burning fossil fuel. The protocol also covers methane, much of which comes from agriculture, and nitrous oxide, mostly from fertiliser use. Three industrial gases are also included.

How will countries comply?
The European Union set up a market in January 2005 under which about 12,000 factories and power stations are given carbon dioxide quotas. If they overshoot they can buy extra allowances in the market or pay a financial penalty; if they undershoot they can sell them.

How is Spain coping?
At the moment, not too well. In 2004, the country emitted more than 427 million tonnes of carbon dioxide – a figure the equivalent of 49 per cent more than its emissions in 1990. By far the worst offender in the European Union, it is second only to Turkey in Kyoto’s global list of shame.

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