BONN - The UN's Kyoto Protocol on global warming was facing its "moment of truth," a European Union leader said Saturday, as negotiators, racing against the clock, wrangled over the toughest problems.
"The moment of truth is approaching," Belgium's deputy for the environment and energy, Olivier Deleuze, whose country chairs the EU, said.
"We have had huge difficulties to agree on the procedure and the implementation rules of the Kyoto Protocol," he said.
The water-installation "Climate accident" by German activist-artist Kurt Jotter from Berlin shows President Bush and US flags in the floods of the Rhine river in Bonn, western Germany, Friday, July 20, 2001, during the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change . (AP Photo/Hermann J. Knippertz)
"We have been discussing (for) years... I don't think we should discuss years more or even months more about the procedural rules, otherwise it would be a bad sign given by the international community."
Environment ministers from Kyoto's 180 signatories have given themselves until late Sunday to approve the agreement's rulebook, an arena for bitter feuding ever since the climate-change pact was adopted way back in 1997.
If they get a convincing deal, that could pull Kyoto back from the cliff's edge after US President George W. Bush abandoned the accord four months ago.
"Negotiations seem like dancing tango: two steps forward, one step back and then suddenly three surprising steps forward," quipped EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstroem.
"Since this is a crucial day, maybe this will be the day for these three surprising steps forward."
Kyoto commits 38 industrialised countries to making a 5.2-percent cut in global emissions of six "greenhouse gases" by a 2008-2012 timeframe compared with 1990 levels.
These carbon-rich gases -- overwhelmingly the result of burning fossil fuels that have powered the rise of rich countries -- are driving the Earth to possibly disastrous climate change, scientists say.
Deleuze said the chairman of the talks, Jan Pronk, was expected to submit "comprehensive global text" later Saturday that would be the basis for haggling in the final two days of the talks.
Four big issues, each of which have dogged Kyoto since inception, need to be negotiated, delegates said:
-- FORESTS: Australia, Canada, Japan and Russia are demanding concessions for their forests and farmland. As plants absorb airborne carbon dioxideas a result of photosynthesis, this land should be counted as a benefit and partially set against their national emissions of greenhouse gases, thus reducing the cost for their economy, they argue.
The EU is demanding a cap on these so-called "sinks," seeing them as a potentially loophole.
-- MECHANISMS: These are provisions for setting up a market in trading CO2 emissions among rich countries and for giving rich countries emissions credits if they provide clean technology to poorer ones.
Deleuze said there was room for a trade off on "sinks," provided nuclear power was excluded from this so-called clean development mechanism.
-- COMPLIANCE: The EU is demanding legally-binding rules and punishment for countries that fail to meet up to their obligations. This is opposed by several countries, led by Australia and Canada.
-- FUNDING: Pronk is seeking funding for help for developing countries bearing the brunt of climate change that would amount to a billion dollars a year from around 2005.
The big question is how to find this money, given that the United States, as the world's biggest polluter and hence biggest contributor, has pulled out.
In Tokyo, the Yomiuri Shimbun daily reported that Japan believed a breakthrough on funding was possible and was willing to boost its assistance fivefold to reach it.
Japan has been trying to steer a neutral path, saying it still backs Kyoto but still hopes to coax the United States back onboard.
Jorge Moraira da Silva, chairman of the European Parliament delegation to the talks, spoke acidly of Japan's "difficult position."
"They have to choose between the next generations of Japanese and Mr. Bush. We trust the good sense of the Japanese," he said.
Copyright © 2001 AFP