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North-south trade in greenhouse gases

Latin American countries could play a key role in the global efforts to mitigate "greenhouse gas" emissions, stem global warming and contribute to their own long-term economic growth by moving ahead on a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) initiative, according to Christiana Figueres, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Sustainable Development in the Americas.The CDM scheduled to start operations in the year 2000, was endorsed by the G-77 group of developing countries at the Third Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change held in December in Kyoto, Japan, which Figueres attended as a Costa Rican delegate.

As conceived by its original sponsors, Brazil and Costa Rica, the CDM would serve as an international mechanism to transact "decarbonization services" between industrialized countries that produce most of the carbon dioxide and developing nations that can help to greatly reduce those noxious emissions.

Latin America could furnish such services in several ways. It could cut its own emissions of greenhouse gases by resorting to renewable energy generation or improving its energy efficiency, or it could "sequester" carbon by improving land use methods.

Through photosynthesis, one hectare of new forest "sinks," or retains, an average of one ton of carbon a year, equivalent to 3.67 tons of carbon dioxide.

Costa Rica has already received offers from industrialized countries to buy two million of the 16 million tons of carbon reduction it has certified, Figueres told IDB staffers at a briefing held at the Bank in January. Prices range from $15 to $20 a ton.

At the same time, the creation of a market for decarbonization services would offer an economic incentive for developing countries to opt for environmentally friendly technologies and land use methods, Figueres added.

Under the protocol adopted in Kyoto, industrialized countries are legally bound to reduce carbon emissions by 5.2 percent below their 1990 levels by the 2008-2012 period. Developing nations, which generate far less greenhouse gases, agreed to no such commitments.

As most rich countries will not be able to fully comply with their national or regional targets within the agreed timetable, the cdm would allow their industries to offset excess emissions by purchasing decarbonization services from developing nations.

The challenge for Latin American nations--which are neighbors of the world's largest source of greenhouse gases, the United States --will be to ensure that all the procedures of the CDM are ready to go by the end of the century, Figueres said.

The region will have a chance to address those issues at a fourth conference on climate change due to be held in November in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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