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Germany: Climate Treaty Salvaged in Bonn

by Andrew C. RevkinNew York Times
July 23rd, 2001

BONN, Germany -- The world's nations, minus the United States, accepted treaty rules that for the first time would require industrialized countries to cut emissions of waste gases linked to global warming.

The agreement, reached after four pressurized days of formal talks here, paves the way for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, which was conceived in 1995, negotiated in Japan two years later, signed by nearly 100 countries, including the United States, and rejected earlier this year by President Bush.

This morning, largely galvanized by the European Union, 178 countries consented to detailed language that moved the proposed treaty along the path from a sketchy plan for reducing the human impact on the atmosphere toward a binding environmental contract.

The development came after years of fighting over the treaty rules between blocs of countries, lobbyists, and environmentalists.

Officials from the European Union exulted over the compromise. Olivier Deleuze, the energy and sustainability secretary of Belgium, said there were easily 10 things in the final texts that he could criticize. "But," he said, "I prefer an imperfect agreement that is living than a perfect agreement that doesn't exist."

The difficulties far exceeded those surrounding other environmental treaties, experts said, because the treaty, by controlling carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, would limit something released by almost every act of modern daily living.

"This is as hard as it gets," said one member of the British delegation. "It involves everything: our energy, our mobility, our use of the land."

Compromises were reached on a set of issues that caused the last negotiating session, in The Hague last November, to end in an impasse between the Clinton administration and Europe.

"The rescue operation succeeded," said Margot Wallstrom, the environmental commissioner of the European Union. "This issue will be around for generations to come, but this is an incredibly important first step."

The biggest sticking point was how much bite to give the enforcement mechanisms for penalizing countries that fail to meet their targets. Japan held out for a fairly painless system. Europe wanted a system that would require countries that miss targets in the first commitment period, from 2008 to 2012, to add to the tonnage of carbon dioxide they eliminated in the next period, with the equivalent of penalties plus interest. Europe got its way.

The talks also clarified the design of the first global system for buying and selling credits earned by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Such a system tends to focus investment in pollution cleanups where the job can be done most effectively and cheaply.

Representatives of a bloc of more than 130 developing countries said they were pleased with the deal -- particularly with new commitments of more than $450 million a year from the industrialized countries to help them adapt to climate change and adopt technologies to avoid making the problem worse as their economies grow.

And the negotiators settled on what kinds of forest and farmland projects -- and how many -- could be used to soak up atmospheric carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and stash away the carbon in wood and soil.

On this point, some environmental groups gently criticized Europe for allowing forested countries like Canada and Japan to gain large credits toward their emissions targets essentially by "watching trees grow," as one campaigner put it.

"It allows us to begin the long journey of confronting global warming, the most serious environmental threat of the 21st century," said Alden Meyer, a lobbyist for the Union of Concerned Scientists who has been involved in climate treaty talks for more than a decade.

As the talks ground on over the weekend and today, attempts by Japan and Saudi Arabia, among others, to seek new concessions or delays faltered.

Consensus emerged after a final push by Jan Pronk, the chairman of the talks, who essentially locked himself in a room with a cluster of negotiators.

By dawn dozens of delegates sprawled unconscious on every spare cushion and couch in the meeting rooms of the Maritim Hotel.

In the end, the diverse array of countries at the table, some grudgingly, overcame differences under strong pressure to avoid an embarrassing deadlock over the rules that could have been the undoing of the treaty itself.

The deal was sealed just before 11 a.m. with an auctioneer-fast crack of Mr. Pronk's gavel. With that stroke, he found some measure of retribution after presiding over the failed talks in the Hague.

The writing of the rules caps a six-year struggle between a group of industries and countries that claimed mandatory emissions caps would harm economies and environmental groups and other countries that saw required limits as the only way to stave off potentially disruptive climate shifts.

At the meeting, there were unusual intertwinings of interests, with companies that build nuclear power plants eager to jump into the climate fight because the technology produces electricity without greenhouse gases. Japan, Canada, China, and other countries supported getting credit toward emissions goals by substituting nuclear for conventional power.

But the European Union, despite its wide use of nuclear power, insisted there be no nuclear option in the global warming agreement.

Some industry lobbyists said they doubted the system for trading carbon credits could be set up in a way that avoided cheating or inaccuracy.

But other executives making the rounds in Bonn came from companies that had already established carbon trading systems in anticipation of eventual required limits.

Indeed, among the business officials at the meeting was Kedin Kilgore, who works for Natsource, a large American energy trading firm. His job title, he said, was "greenhouse gas broker."

To some of the participants and observers in the wearying talks here, the achievement was a bit soured given that the United States, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet, chose not to be a party to the proposed treaty.

But others noted that, between them, the three dozen industrialized countries that supported the treaty language accounted for far more emissions than the United States.

Environmental campaigners said Europe had proved it can lead despite its sometimes fragmented appearance.

"There's really a new force on the world stage," said Philip Clapp, the president of the National Environmental Trust, a lobbying group based in Washington. "If the United States will not lead, Europe can and will."

any of the negotiators from other countries held out hope that, eventually, the United States would rejoin the pact.

Chances of that happening in the short run are slim. During the plenary session celebrating the accord, Paula Dobrianksy, the Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, congratulated the parties to the protocol but reiterated a common theme of the Bush administration -- that it was "not sound policy."

Even before the Kyoto treaty was negotiated, the Senate warned in a 95 to 0 vote that it would not consent to any treaty that excused developing countries from obligatory cuts and could harm the economy by limiting gases released by burning fuels.

Mr. Bush embraces the same view, although he repeated his pledge to come up with an alternative and his commitment to stabilizing greenhouse gases, during the summit in Genoa.

In one of many floor statements made after the rules were adopted, Japan's environment minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi, in a clear reference to the United States, said it was important to try to build a bridge between the Kyoto process and countries waiting on the sidelines.

"In order to achieve the objectives of the Kyoto Protocol, we need to have the widest possible participation of countries," she said.. "We should try to encourage all our friends to join us in our common effort to address global warming."

After the formal session ended this afternoon, hundreds of officials began to prepare for a weeklong meeting to draft the fine print.

Many countries said that the completion of the rules meant they could take the pact home to start the ratification effort.

Formal adoption of the agreement is scheduled to take place in Marrakech at the end of October.





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