Published on Wednesday, November 22, 2000 in the Guardian of London
US Berated For Wriggling Out Of Treaty Pledges
EU fury grows as Americans try to exploit loopholes
by Paul Brown in the Hague
 
The EU launched a scathing attack on the US yesterday for attempting to avoid its commitments on climate change and undermining the credibility of the Kyoto agreement made in 1997.

In an extraordinarily blunt statement, Dominque Voynet, the French environment minister, said: "We are seeking ways we can meet our commitments, not ways we can avoid them and create new escape routes. The US is trying to avoid domestic measures to curb emissions and create a series of loopholes, in effect unravelling the treaty.

"We are not prepared to be led down a road which would destroy the particularly hard work we have built up over three years," added Ms Voynet, who was speaking on behalf of the EU, since France currently holds the presidency.

Emily Quesada
Using the American flag to cover part of her face, Green Peace activist Emily Quesada from Maine, hands out pamphlets at the sixth session of the United Nations global warming conference in The Hague, Netherlands Tuesday Nov. 21, 2000. The conference was deadlocked Tuesday, with Europeans accusing the United States of evading its commitment to curb greenhouse gas emissions and poor countries complaining of being ignored. (AP Photo/Serge Ligtenberg)
Ms Voynet, known for her fiery nature, was referring to attempts by the US to claim that existing forests had soaked up so much carbon from the atmosphere since 1990 that it cancelled out about half of all the emissions Americans created from burning fossil fuels. Using natural vegetation to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is known as creating "sinks".

As a concession, the Americans announced on Monday that they were prepared only to claim part of the total for existing forests. But overnight, EU scientists studied the proposal and claimed this sink was such a "massive loophole" that it rendered US promises made in Kyoto meaningless.

Kjell Larsson, the Swedish environment minister said: "The US is supposed to reduce its emissions by 7% on 1990 levels by 2010. The number crunchers have been working overnight on the US proposals and discover that it would allow an increase in US emissions of between 8% and 9%.

"That means, in effect, the US emissions would go up rather than down as they promised only three years ago. This is far beyond what is even possible to discuss."

Ms Voynet, wearing a badge with the slogan "Face up to climate change", added: "No compromise can be made, the proposals are simply not acceptable. We do not intend to redebate this item. We want to discuss ways in which we can meet our commitments, not ways in which we can avoid them."

The deputy prime minister, John Prescott, in his set speech to the conference, supported the EU stand. "Our task this week is not to rewrite the Kyoto protocol but to reaffirm it," he said. "This Hague agreement must maintain the environmental integrity of the Kyoto agreement, especially the 5% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by the developed world.

"Minus five may be a small step - but it is a small step in the right direction and must not be reversed by an over-generous interpretation of the contribution from sinks.

"Developed countries must lead the way. We created the mess, the polluter must pay and individual developed countries must introduce their own policies to cut emissions."

Prodding a sandbag on the podium, Mr Prescott said: "This sandbag symbolises a lot to people in my country. Two weeks ago much of my country was under water. In the ancient Roman city of York hundreds of people worked through many nights to save it from the worst floods and storms since 1625.

"It was only the thousands and thousands of these sandbags which saved the city. This was a wake-up call. People know something is wrong. The people are looking for a successful Hague agreement."

He added: "Climate change is already upon us. But it can get much worse if we fail to act. Unless we join together in this agreement this week, we will be throwing away the opportunity of a lifetime."

The US was increasingly defensive last night. Frank Loy, the undersecretary for global affairs and head of the 150-strong American delegation, said: "These are not loopholes or 11th-hour gimmicks. Without them we and other nations will not be able to fulfil our Kyoto commitments."

He was referring to the fact that US emissions have soared since 1990 because of the booming economy. Rather than begin to reduce fossil fuel burning as the UK and Germany have done there has been a continued steep climb in North America. Unless the US takes action its emissions will increase by as much as 35% above 1990 levels by 2010.

What the US was proposing on Monday was a way of soaking up 8% of the total by using forests to capture carbon. What irritates the EU is that this proposal is only one of a number, including planting or buying forests in the developing countries, that the US is considering in order to avoid taking domestic action.

There were signs yesterday that the EU was prepared to reach an agreement with other developed countries which excluded the US if necessary.

Environment commissioner Margot Wallstrom said the EU was prepared to start the process of ratification of the treaty within weeks so that it would come into legal force by 2002. Ms Voynet said the EU wanted a deal but was "not prepared to cease taking action because of the unilateral requests of one country".

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000

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