International conference begins work on fine points of global warming treaty; environmentalists warn of backsliders

Tuesday, October 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MARRAKECH, Morocco (AP) _ Technical and legal experts began work Tuesday on the fine points of rules to implement a global treaty on controlling climate change. Environmentalists expressed concern that some industrial countries would backtrack on their support.

Australia, Canada, Japan and Russia were singled out for worry by the environmental group Greenpeace. With the United States already opting out, a refusal of the four to ratify the treaty would threaten its prospects.

The two-week conference which opened Monday culminates a four-year effort to draft binding regulations on limiting greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

Nearly 4,000 delegates from 163 countries and nongovernment organizations are attending. The U.S. delegation is observing rather than negotiating.

Committees met to hammer out legal language in rules that would govern how countries count, monitor, verify and report the emission of greenhouse gases blamed for trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere.

The United States earlier this year renounced its signature on the 1997 climate change treaty reached in Kyoto, Japan. It was the lone dissenter three months ago when 178 other countries accepted an accord in Bonn, Germany, on how to carry out targets of the Kyoto Protocol.

The Bush administration says the pact would make U.S. industry less competitive by forcing power companies and manufacturers to use expensive fuels or adopt costly technologies. It also branded the treaty unfair because it exempts developing countries which are heavy polluters, like India and China.

The Kyoto pact calls for industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent from their 1990 levels by 2012. After that, further reductions would be negotiated and a list of restricted countries could be expanded.

The treaty must be ratified by 55 countries, including industrialized nations that were the source of 55 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted in 1990. The goal is next September, 10 years after the first action on climate control was adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Environmentalists are worried that several countries which reluctantly accepted the Bonn agreement may try to dilute the legal text now being drafted.

``Australia is the leader of the backtrack camp,'' asserted Jennifer Morgan of the World Wildlife Fund.

Bill Hare of Greenpeace said Australia was trying to water down binding agreements by changing words like ``shall'' to ``should'' throughout the text.

He said Canada and Russia wanted to alter the Bonn agreement regarding carbon sinks _ forest or agricultural land that absorb carbon and offset a country's emissions quota.

Japan was unhappy about any sanctions that could be applied to a country that failed to meet its obligations, Hare said.