Published on Friday, December 1, 2000 by Inter Press Service
US, Europe Under Pressure To Restart Global Warming Talks
by Danielle Knight
WASHINGTON - As countries blame each other for last week's collapse of the global talks on climate change, environmental pressure groups are calling on industrialised nations to quickly resume negotiations.

While some progress was made to translate an international treaty to reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gases into an enforceable agreement, industrialised nations could not agree on how much credit should be given for using forests and farmland to absorb carbon, the main greenhouse gas. On Saturday in The Hague talks were suspended without resolution.

Environmentalists are now urging European and US negotiators to talk frequently between now and the next negotiating session, scheduled for May in Bonn, Germany.

''We hope that the ministers will reconvene, at least informally, as quickly as possible to build on what progress was made in The Hague,'' says Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, a Washington-based advocacy group.

The recent session in the Netherlands was intended to hammer out the details of the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 agreement which requires industrialised countries to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of five percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

The United States, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, initially sought to get halfway to its Kyoto target by getting credit for its vast forests as a carbon dioxide ''sink''.

After the European Union rejected this proposal, the United States reduced the credits it wanted for forests and other so-called ''sinks'' by nearly three-fourths. But Frank Loy, the leading US negotiator, says he never received a response to why the deal fell apart.

Some conservationists here, while agreeing with the EU's scepticism about relying on sinks to halt climate change, are criticising the European negotiators. Clapp with the National Environmental Trust says they may have missed their best opportunity for a strong treaty.

After January, Europe could face the administration headed by Republican governor of Texas, George W. Bush, who is almost certain to push for sinks and market-based mechanisms that environmentalists call ''loopholes''.

''This was a critical window of opportunity,'' says Clapp. ''To let it close was a monumental miscalculation.''

But with more time to negotiate, conservation groups remain optimistic that an agreement is still attainable.

''With an extra day, I believe a package deal could have been reached,'' says Alden Meyer, director of government relations for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate change campaign for the World Wildlife Fund, underscores the need for negotiators to meet again soon before the next formal date in May. ''We all believe they need to reconvene in weeks, not months,'' she says.

Meyer adds that now, more than ever before, business is more willing to act on reducing emissions. The shift of business is ''nothing short of amazing'', says Meyers.

When the Kyoto Protocol was first written up in 1997, powerful US industries launched a multi-million dollar mass media campaign against the agreement, arguing that it would devastate the US economy. Since then, many corporations have changed their tune. Several companies, including British Petroleum (BP)-Amoco, Shell International, and the chemical company DuPont, have teamed with the advocacy group, Environmental Defense, in setting firm targets for reducing their own emissions. BP-Amoco has even set up its own internal carbon emission trading programme.

During The Hague conference, the National Environmental Trust released a poll of Fortune 5000 companies that Clapp says illustrates changing opinions on global warming and the Kyoto Protocol.

Thirty-four percent of business executives polled said they support ratification of the agreement by the US Senate. The poll, conducted by American Viewpoint, a Republican polling firm based in Washington, also found that 75 percent of Fortune 5000 executives believe that global warming is a serious problem.

''This view accounts for some of the movement we have seen in the business community in the past two years,'' says Clapp.

Some business interests who went to The Hague expressed confusion that the climate talks collapsed. ''We came here expecting a decision which would have clarified rules and guidelines,'' Nick Campbell, of the International Chambers of Commerce, told reporters.

Besides a shift in the business community, the US Senate - once unanimously opposed to its ratification - has also begun to change, notes Clapp. Three outspoken opponents to the agreement were defeated in the recent elections: Republicans Spencer Abraham of Michigan, John Ashcroft of Missouri and Rod Grams of Minnesota.

Copyright 2000 IPS