Published on Friday, December 8, 2000 in the Toronto Globe & Mail
Global Warming Deal Stalls
Negotiating session fails to create framework
to cut carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases
by Mark MacKinnon
OTTAWA -- A three-day negotiating session aimed at moving a global-climate-change deal forward wrapped up here yesterday having made scant progress.
That leaves the planet with an agreement in principle on how to combat global warming -- namely, the 1997 Kyoto accord on reducing so-called greenhouse gases -- but still no framework on how to implement it.
"It would have been nice to get the officials to hammer out an agreement, but that didn't happen," Environment Minister David Anderson said in a telephone interview after talks concluded.
The Ottawa negotiations were attended solely by bureaucrats. Mr. Anderson said he would be open to a meeting of the world's environment ministers in the near future. A decision on whether such a meeting will be held before Christmas will be made early next week.
This week's talks were hastily arranged after the collapse of the most recent ministers conference last month in The Hague. That meeting had been flagged as the deadline for sorting out how countries would go about realizing the aims of the Kyoto agreement.
Globally, the aim is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to 6 per cent lower than 1990 levels by 2010.
A deep split emerged both in Ottawa and The Hague between governments such as the European Union that want to see Kyoto strictly interpreted, with countries making emissions cuts domestically, and a group headed by Canada and the United States that would like the deal made flexible, with tradeable "emissions credits."
Key is the issue of carbon "sinks" -- essentially forests and farmland that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere -- and how much credit countries should be given for maintaining them.
While the two sides have moved closer -- the EU accepts that sinks should be part of the deal -- there is still significant disagreement about how much they should be worth under the emissions-reduction formula being negotiated.
There are also outstanding issues regarding an international emissions-credit trading system, and how the deal would be enforced.
Hobbling the efforts of Canada and the United States to get a more flexible deal is the fact that both countries have seen emissions rise, rather than decrease, since the signing of the Kyoto accord, which neither country has ratified.
"I think these two countries . . . they are taking some domestic action . . . the problem is the order of the magnitude," said a French official who attended the talks.
While U.S. and Canadian officials at the talks emphasized the progress that had been made, she described the two sides as having "huge gaps in perspective."
Canada is the world's second-largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases. It has come under sustained fire in recent months for its lack of action, and for what environmentalists call the obstructionist role it played at The Hague.
"They didn't accomplish anything here," John Bennett of the Sierra Club said last night. "Canada refused to compromise enough to get an agreement to save the planet."
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