NEW DELHI - The U.S. government's opposition to the Kyoto Protocol is evident at the United Nations conference on climate change here, through remarks by its chief negotiator Harlan Watson Thursday that affirmed Washington's willingness to go it alone on the issue of global warming.
At a press briefing at the 8th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, Watson reaffirmed his country's inability to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, saying it would mean a 35 percent reduction in economic growth and have significant consequences for other countries as well.
Indian children and youths hold a poster asking for a the United States to take
a stronger stance in protecting the environment during a protest staged outside
of the building where U.N. delegates from 185 countries work to implement a global
warming accord at the U.N. Climate Change talks in New Delhi, India Friday, Oct.
25, 2002. The ten-day meeting, began Wednesday, aims to chalk out measures for
governments and civilians before the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate changes takes
effect early next year. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Dalziel)
''When our economy hiccups, or indeed that of Europe or Japan, it has ramifications worldwide,'' Watson argued here on the second day of the climate conference.
Both he and Robert K Dixon, senior advisor on climate change to the U.S. Department of Energy, dwelt at length on Indo-U.S cooperation in the area and its steady progress lately.
They also referred to similar bilateral partnerships over the past year with Australia, Canada, China, Italy, Japan and several Latin American countries. .
Their remarks indicated a message from the United States that there are other ways of addressing climate change apart from the 1997 Kyoto accord, in effect saying that there are two approaches shaping up today on global warming - one within the Kyoto protocol and another outside it.
But this approach drew criticism from Anju Sharma, an expert on global environment governance at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a leading New Delhi-based voluntary organisation.
''What the U.S. is trying to do is sabotage the Kyoto Protocol and replace it with bilateral deals, in each of which, it becomes the major partner,'' she said.
In fact, Sharma explained, there is a pattern in the U.S. policy of rejecting multilateral agreements of any kind -- the Kyoto Protocol that binds developed countries to curbing greenhouse gases is just one example.
Watson said later that there is little chance of the United States ratifying the Kyoto Protocol even at a future date. Some have been hoping that this can still happen, especially since several countries have indicated willingess to ratify it before next year, when it is due to come into force.
''Not today, tomorrow or during the first commitment period (2008 to 2012),'' Watson stressed.
In fact, Watson seemed confident that too wide a gap still exists between the governments that have ratified the Kyoto pact and the 55 percent of signatories required for the protocol to come into force.
Sharma said the United States is now busy trying to drive a wedge between the more progressive European countries, which are keen on ratifying the protocol, and the developing countries that stand to benefit from its acceptance.
U.S. climate change policy as announced by President George W Bush on Feb. 14 is based on a different criterion from that used in the Kyoto framework in that it measures greenhouse gas intensity calculated on the basis of its economic activity.
This policy calculates that when the annual decline in greenhouse gas intensity equals the economic growth rate, emissions will stop, and when the annual decline in intensity exceeds economic growth rate, emissions will reverse.
Watson said that under the 'business-as- usual' scenario, greenhouse gases would decline by 14 percent over the next 14 years. Bush's goal is a four percent improvement on this, he added.
''The President's goal is to lower the United States ratio of emission from an estimated 183 metric tonnes per million dollars of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2002, to 151 metric tonnes per million dollars of GDP in 2012,'' Watson said.
He said, additionally, that the U.S. strategy emphasised investment in science, technology and institutions and promoted working with other nations to develop an efficient and coordinated response to global climate change.
But leading activists attending the 10-day conference say U.S. policy is basically a reflection of powerful lobbies working within that country.
According to Steven Sawyer of Greenpeace International, industrial lobbies, in particular the oil transnationals based in the United States, are pumping money into building an elaborate case that climate change is not necessarily linked to emissions of heat-trapping gases.
''What we are up against is the largest vested interest group in the world, which is the fossil fuel industry,'' Sawyer said.
It is not just activists that are finding themselves at variance with the U.S. policy on climate change. Several groupings like the Group of 77 bloc of developing countries and the European Union are using COP-8 to air their disappointment at Washington's ''pro-growth approach to climate change''.
At a press briefing Thursday, Thomas Becker from Denmark, which currently holds the EU presidency, and Marianne Wenning, from the European Commission's Environment Directorate-General, said efforts would be made to get the United States back into the Kyoto process.
''They (the U.S.) have left the family and we have to pay the bill,'' was how Becker described the situation.
Wenning said the EU is making good progress on emissions control. It made a 3.5 percent reduction by 2000 and now expected to make an eight percent reduction by 2012.
''We are now looking ahead of 2012,'' she said, adding that this was achieved through improved energy efficiency measures and more use of renewable energy resources in
She challenged the U.S. contention that the reduction of emissions under the Kyoto Protocol would result in a decline in economic growth and said that on the contrary, there would be new opportunities thrown up by a growing market for green technologies.
The EU's main endeavour at COP-8 would be to strike a balance between support given by industrialised countries to the developing countries, and opportunities for the latter to assume future commitments on cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, officials said.
Copyright 2002 Reuters Ltd