Published on Sunday, November 26, 2000 by Reuters
World Powers Trade Charges on Climate Talks' Failure
by Patricia Zengerle
LONDON - The collapse of U.N. climate talks triggered a blizzard of charges and countercharges on Sunday over who was responsible for the latest failure to reach a pact on global warming.

World economic powers hurled blame at each other for the two-week Hague summit's ending without a plan to coordinate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

In developing nations, considered most at risk from higher temperatures, scorn was poured on the failure of the gas- guzzling rich to stop squabbling over the cost and unite to tackle climate change.

``The United States remains obsessed with the idea that it can use the dollar to buy itself out of trouble'' said a commentary in South Africa's Daily Mail & Guardian under the headline ``U.S. plays dirty at climate summit.''

The United States, the world's top polluter, pushed a plan to allow nations to count carbon dioxide soaked up by forests, so-called carbon sinks, against emissions targets.

``The reason why they (talks) ultimately collapsed was that U.S. insisted that grasslands and forests should count in carbon sequestration (limiting),'' an expert associated with the independent Tata Energy Research Institute said in New Delhi.

``These are natural processes. And they just happen. It is not fair for the U.S. to count these as additional activities,'' he said. ``The U.S. intransigence is what led to the breakdown.''

The Hague conference had sought agreement on implementing a pact reached in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, which called for a five percent average cut in developed nations' 1990 levels of emissions of gases such as carbon dioxide by 2010.

Washington, backed by Australia, Canada and Japan, said it could not reach its targets without such methods. Opponents said the plan might actually lead to an increase in global emissions.

``The refusal of some industrial nations to give climate protection priority at home caused the failure. It also failed because industrial countries wanted to count too much their natural forests as a source of man-made reduction rather than actually cutting greenhouse gases,'' German Environment Minister Juergen Tritten, a member of the Greens party, said.

Flood, Disease And Fury

Scientists say gases like carbon dioxide threaten potentially disastrous effects on weather, sea levels and the spread of diseases like malaria and dengue fever.

French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said U.S. proposals had been unacceptable but held out hope for the Kyoto process.

``It would have been a failure not to wage a battle, to keep posturing on principles or sign a bad climate agreement,'' she told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper in an interview.

``If despite everything there was a failure, it was in the sense that we have not finished our work.''

She said she hoped the United States would see reason.

``Maybe they'll realize in the end that a resident of Houston, Texas, emits five times as much global warming gas as someone who lives in the Paris region,'' she said.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard defended his country's backing of the U.S. plan.

``It's very important for Australia that that be kept in the package,'' he told Nine Network television on Sunday.

``It's all right for the Europeans who get the fortuitous benefits, in the case of Britain for example, in (mining) pit closures in the 1980s which, ironically enough, the present British government, then in opposition, bitterly opposed.

``In Australia's case, the way the rules are written, if those sinks are out, we carry a disproportionate burden.''

2000 Reuters Limited