THE HAGUE - Signatories to the UN's Kyoto Protocol on global warming on Tuesday pored over a lifeboat plan aimed at saving the troubled treaty from sinking, but some forbidding clouds lay ahead.
The compromise was put forward by Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk, hoping to save the accord from oblivion after the United States, the biggest culprit in the climate change crisis, ditched it in March.
Ministers and senior officials from the Group of 77 (G77) bloc of developing countries met behind closed doors for the second day running, while their counterparts from industrialised nations began a one-day meeting.
The two groups get together Wednesday and Thursday, with the hope of hammering out the broad lines for a make-or-break meeting in Bonn next month.
Kyoto began life in 1997 as a "framework" agreement that set down the most ambitious targets and principles of any international environment agreement.
It binds industrialised countries to cutting output of fossil-fuel gases that are blamed for warming the Earth's atmosphere, inflicting potentially catastrophic changes on the climate for future generations.
But Kyoto's rulebook has proven fiendishly difficult to complete -- and the protocol's very future was thrown into doubt after President George W. Bush declared in March that the US would not ratify the finished product.
Pronk's salvage plan offers concessions to Japan and Russia, whose support are vital for securing an accord without the US, but a diplomat here said Tuesday the scheme could run into problems over money.
Pronk has suggested industrialised countries provide a billion dollars a year in funds to developing nations to help them adapt to climate change.
In a concession to Moscow, his plan would halve contributions to the fund made by the former Eastern Bloc countries.
Even so, the reduced figure ran into strong objections from eastern and central European countries, the source said.
Eleven countries who are candidates for European Union membership met with the EU 15 and Switzerland late Tuesday and said the contribution was still way to high, the source said.
"The eastern European countries are very hostile" to the money figures, the source said. "This will be a big problem for getting the treaty ratified."
Still unclear is whether the developing countries themselves will accept Pronk's figures. Some observers speculate that poorer countries will view a billion-dollar annual commitment as falling way too short, given the scale of the climate-change problem and the moral responsibility for rich countries in causing it.
Funding is only one of several bitterly divisive issues that have dogged the Kyoto process.
With the US's abandonment of Kyoto, the onus now falls on the European Union, which says it is determined to ratify the treaty in 2002, to sign the cheques.
Bush's argument for opposing the scheme was that it was "fundamentally flawed" and unfair, as fast-growing, high-population developing countries such as China and India do not have specific cuts in emissions.
But that assertion was rubbished in a study published Tuesday by a US environment group, the World Resources Institute (WRI).
In 1999, US emissions averaged about 5.6 tonnes of carbon per person -- about 20 times more per capita than in India and more than 10 times than that of the average Chinese, the WRI said.
"Despite increasing amounts of CO2 emissions from developing countries, the United States will continue to dominate the production of this heat-trapping gas 10 years from now, at the rate of 300 million tonnes of carbon every year.
"In contrast, India and China's combined emissions will be four-fifths those of the US total by 2010," the WRI said.
Copyright © 2001 AFP