THE HAGUE - Environmentalists accused the United States Thursday of hampering talks here aimed at rescuing the Kyoto Protocol, the climate-change treaty that has been on life support after it was rejected by Washington in March.
Jennifer Morgan, campaign director at the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), said the United States was retreating from vows made just two weeks earlier, when it promised the European Union (EU) it would not sabotage Kyoto.
"They came here saying they weren't going to obstruct, they weren't going to block, (but) they're raising key issues in the discussion that could be quite difficult later on," Morgan told AFP, describing one US stance as "a complete non-starter."
The most ambitious environment accord ever attempted, Kyoto ties industrialised countries to trimming their emissions of "greenhouse" gases which are chiefly the byproduct of burning fossil fuels.
Billions of tonnes of these carbon gases are lingering in the atmosphere, letting the Sun's heat build up in the Earth's surface, spelling potential disaster for our climate a few decades from now, scientists say.
Kyoto, signed by UN members in 1997 as a "framework" agreement, still awaits the rules and procedures that will enable it to implemented.
But efforts to agree them fell apart last year, and President George W. Bush sounded what some described as the treaty's death knell by announcing that the United States -- the biggest culprit for greenhouse gas emissions -- would not ratify the finished product.
Kyoto signatories, in four days of informal talks that were climaxing on Thursday, were staking out positions on a salvage plan put forward by Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk ahead of formal negotiations in Bonn, from July
Aspects of the Pronk plan have already run into opposition from Eastern Bloc countries, which as industrialised countries are being asked to contribute to a fund to help developing nations adapt to climate change.
Japan, too, has been offered a big concession on writing off some of its emissions against forested land, but is demanding more, delegates added.
But another source of concern was objections raised by the United States.
Despite its abandonment of Kyoto, the United States still has the right to attend negotiations as it is a party to Kyoto's parent treaty, the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
US Acting Assistant Secretary of State Kenneth Brill told the meeting Wednesday that Washington would attach conditions before stumping up any additional funds as a UNFCCC signatory, Morgan said.
"They said, 'we're not opposed to giving some money for adaptation and capacity building, but we will link that to commitments, targets and timetables, from developing countries,'" she said.
"This is a complete non-starter and I would consider that process as being quite obstructionist."
Other sources reported Brill made a veiled threat on trade, insinuating the US would block any Kyoto provisions that promoted subsidies for "clean" products or rules on energy efficiency that could penalise American firms in the future.
However, Swedish Environment Minister Kjell Larsson, whose country chairs the European Union (EU) until June 30, said he had not seen "any sign so far that they (the Americans) have tried to be destructive."
"I certainly believe that they will live up to their promise and be working constructively, not blocking," he told AFP.
Bush stoked a storm of criticism in his argument against Kyoto -- that it was unfair to the US and "fundamentally flawed" because fast-growing developing countries with huge populations, like China and India, are not tied to any emissions cuts.
China and other nations angrily opposed any emissions targets.
They retorted that rich nations bore historic responsibility for global warming and that, per capita, the most profligate user of energy was by far the United States.