Climate change: UN marks treaty's anniversary by hailing savings of going green

21 March 2004

Fighting climate change makes economic sense in the long run because using energy more efficiently will ultimately produce enormous financial and green benefits, the head of the United Nations' environmental agency said in a message marking the 10th anniversary today of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which came into force in March 1994.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), noted that re-insurance agents last year estimated that the cost of climate-related disasters reached $65 billion.

“Then there are other economic impacts as a result of a continued, inefficient use of carbon-based fuels, including those on human health and habitats and ecosystems, like forests and lakes,” he said.

Mr. Toepfer called on governments, businesses and citizens to show “imagination, vision and, above all, courage” to harness new technologies that can use energy more efficiently and cause less damage to the environment.

He said the world is on the cusp on another industrial leap forward, with fossil fuels such as coal and oil going the way of the typewriter and the punch-card machine – to be replaced by modern conventional power stations and alternative sources of energy such as wind and solar power.

Mr. Toepfer used his anniversary message to urge countries to ratify the treaty's Kyoto Protocol, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to earlier levels.

Describing the reduction targets in the Protocol's first phase as “modest to say the least,” Mr. Toepfer said the losses resulting from not adhering to that pact outweigh the costs of compliance.

Echoing this view, Secretary-General Kofi Annan cited several examples of greener technologies emerging partly because of the Convention's entry into force. They included the increased use of wind farms, the introduction of so-called hybrid vehicles and added investments in hydrogen and carbon technology.

The Secretary-General said signing the Kyoto Protocol is urgent given “the increased incidence of drought, floods and extreme weather events that many regions are experiencing.”

The Protocol, which sets legally binding targets and timetables for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, will only enter into force after it has been ratified by at least 55 countries, including industrialized countries accounting for 55 per cent of their group's 1990 level of CO2 emissions. Although the Protocol has 121 parties, including the European Community, the vast majority are developing countries and it has not entered into force.