CONFERENCE on global warming tries to build momentum toward Kyoto agreement

Saturday, July 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BONN, Germany (AP) _ Delegates from 178 nations trying to salvage the Kyoto global warming treaty showed major progress Saturday, under pressure to reach a compromise deal to present to the summit of eight powerful countries meeting in Italy.

In an unusual public exposure of the issues, conference chairman Jan Pronk heard in open session reports on the committee work in four key areas that have eluded agreement for years, apparently to send a signal to the G8 summit in Genoa that the climate talks were making progress.

``There is progress, and a deal might be in the making,'' Pronk told reporters after hearing the reports.

Pronk, the Dutch environment minister, said he would work up a negotiating draft by Saturday evening, well before the leaders leave Genoa on Sunday afternoon.

The positions concerned financing, a system of emission credits for forestry management, mechanisms for offsetting pollution reduction targets and penalties for failing to meet those targets.

``Everything mentioned is something the environmental organizations can support,'' said Philip Clapp, head of the Washington-based National Environmental Trust.

``Now it's really a matter of the political will by the heads of government. Hopefully they will be able to sign off on an agreement, if not at the G8, at least within the coming weeks,'' Clapp said in an interview.

Although the United States has rejected the Kyoto Protocol, it was clear the U.S. positions on key issues were taken into account. Former Argentine President Raoul Estrada said that was meant to leave room for the United States, which he referred to as the ``big absent'' party to sign on later.

``We are trying to protect the need that 'absent' to join us as soon as possible,'' said Estrada.

Earlier, the head of the European Union delegation said the talks had reached ``the moment of truth.''

``The process is now speeding up,'' said Belgian envoy Olivier Deleuze. ``We are waiting for comprehensive global text that can be put on the table for the last hours of negotiation.''

Though environment ministers and top officials were scheduled to negotiate through Sunday night, Deleuze indicated that if a deal were close, talks could continue another day _ but said an agreement can't be delayed for future meetings.

Leaders meeting in Genoa could contribute to the process by giving a signal to their delegations about whether ``the heads of state think a compromise is possible and desirable'', he said.

The European Union, Deleuze said, was prepared to negotiate on the issue of how much credit for emissions reductions nations should get for forests, but not on credits for nuclear power projects.

``Negotiation seems like dancing the Tango, two steps forward, two steps back and suddenly three surprising steps forward,'' EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said.

Encouragement came from Canada on Friday. After wavering for weeks, Canada distanced itself from the United States and gave its ``unequivocal support'' to the Kyoto accord and to ratify it even if Washington did not.

``We do not believe the Kyoto Protocol is flawed, as the Americans have said,'' Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray told a news conference Friday. ``We intend to respect the protocol and our commitments under it.''

President Bush renounced the signature by his predecessor, Bill Clinton, on the 1997 Kyoto agreement that set binding targets to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases causing changes in the Earth's climate. Bush said it was unfair and harmful to the U.S. economy.

The U.S. withdrawal has cast doubt on whether the treaty could be ratified by enough countries to make it a binding international treaty. It requires the approval of 55 countries that emit 55 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.

With the United States out of the picture, fence-sitters like Canada and Japan gained additional bargaining power. Along with Australia and Russia, they have put a new proposal on the table that would give them greater credit for managing forests and farmlands which soak up carbon dioxide from the air.

Deleuze said Friday the first goal is to reach a deal, but that the European Union ultimately wants to bring the United States back into the fold.