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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kyoto May Burden Poorest States Most

WASHINGTON -- Sajida Khan, who has fought for years to close an apartheid-era dumpsite that she says has sickened many people in her predominantly brown and black community outside Durban, South Africa, was dismayed to learn recently that she faces a surprising new obstacle: the Kyoto global warming treaty.

Under the protocol's highly touted plan to encourage rich countries to invest in eco-friendly projects in poor nations, the site now stands to become a cash cow that generates income for South Africa while helping a wealthy European nation meet its obligations under the pact.

The project's sponsors at the World Bank call it a win-win situation; Khan calls it a disaster. She said her community's suffering is being prolonged so that a rich country will not have to make difficult cuts in greenhouse gas emissions at home.

"It is another form of colonialism," she said.

In what advocates call an innovative market-based strategy, the treaty, which took effect Feb. 16, allows rich nations to avoid making some of their mandated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by buying "credits" from nations that pollute less, or by investing in sustainable development projects, which is how the Durban dumpsite is classified. The theory is that such investments will allow rich countries to lower the global burden of emissions and simultaneously spur transfer of clean technology to poorer nations.

But activists such as Khan and Winfried Overbeek, who is fighting a Kyoto-inspired project in Brazil, say that the world cannot barter its way out of global warming, and that there is no way to achieve a stable climate unless people in wealthy countries use fewer resources and energy -- in other words, lower consumption.

"There is a fear that if you are criticizing Kyoto, you want it to fail like the U.S. does, and that is not our goal," said Daphne Wysham, director of the sustainable energy and economy network at the Institute for Policy Studies, an advocacy group that is critical of the trading system. "But we are concerned that the poor are being asked to pay the highest price."

The treaty establishes a barter system where the currency is carbon -- global warming is linked to the buildup of carbon dioxide generated by burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels. Every developing-country project that reduces greenhouse emissions or taps a clean source of energy earns "carbon credits" that can be sold to European countries, Canada and Japan.

The administration of U.S. president George W. Bush has ridiculed such trading because it will not result in any emissions reductions. Under pressure from their own environmental groups, Europe, Japan and Canada are opting for the alternative of investing in clean-energy projects in poor countries. Developing countries have eagerly welcomed such investments, and some environmental advocates say the real concern is that Kyoto will have too few emissions trading projects.

The Durban dumpsite was an attractive target under Kyoto because, like most dumps, it emits methane, one of six greenhouse gases the treaty seeks to limit. Methane is 21 times worse than carbon dioxide in trapping heat, Newcombe said, adding that the project was supported by South African authorities and had met safety protocols. He dismissed Wysham's charges as "technically naive," saying the project would generate clean power, collect toxic gases and filter them away.

But Sajida Khan said the World Bank and the treaty do not recognize the realities on the ground where she lives. The Bisasar landfill was established by the apartheid regime in 1980 to get rid of waste from predominantly white neighborhoods in a community largely populated by Indians and blacks. The African National Congress once promised to close the dump, she said, but has not, and now South Africa will gain by keeping it open.

"You are talking about gaining credits and making money, but the people on the ground will continue to suffer," she said.