Published on Tuesday, December 5, 2000 by Agence France Press
US Presidency Change Puts Gun Against Heads Of Climate Negotiators
PARIS - Key industrialised countries meet on Wednesday in the hope of salvaging an international agreement on cutting the "greenhouse gas" emissions which cause global warming before a new US president takes office on January 20.

Without an accord, George W. Bush, a Republican who is a declared opponent of the Kyoto Protocol to fight global warming, will find it easier to walk away from the world's most important environment accord if he becomes the next incumbent of the White House, analysts said Tuesday.

Negotiators from the European Union, the United States, Australia, Canada and Japan will meet in Ottawa on Wednesday for two days of informal talks, and could reconvene next week in Oslo with other countries if there is progress, concurring sources said.

But the meeting has been so hastily arranged -- less than two weeks after the failure of an international forum in The Hague which was to have wrapped up a deal on global warming-- that exactly what they will discuss seems unclear and what can be achieved is limited.

"There's secrecy and haste," said Bill Hare, the climate campaign director for the environmental group Greenpeace.

"There's secrecy, in that if they can't reach agreement, they don't want to do it publicly. The haste is obviously linked to the Clinton administration. The clock is ticking," he said.

Tony Carritt, head of the environment practice at the Brussels consultancy Adamson BSMG Worldwide, said Bill Clinton was eager to lock in the Kyoto accord -- or as much of it as possible -- before he leaves office.

"Maybe the US strategy is: it would look bad for Bush to walk away from a deal that would have been done, so to that extent it would lock him in at least morally or politically," he suggested.

Kyoto, a skeletal agreement approved by UN signatories in 1997, binds industrialised countries to trimming output of fossil-fuel gases that scientists say are dangerously warming the Earth's atmosphere.

But a three-year effort to hammer out the actual contents of the accord collapsed in The Hague in the early hours of November 25, largely due to differences between Europe and the United States -- the world's top producer of greenhouse gases.

Part of the reason was an EU-US rift about the now-notorious "sinks" -- how far forests should be considered carbon-absorbing sponges that could be used to offset a country's national gas emission output.

The EU had opposed US claims for a generous definition of "sinks", suspecting a sleight of hand by which America could simply write off the emissions from its fuel-guzzling cars yet do little to curb the pollution problem itself.

Amid sometimes chaotic scenes, EU and US negotiators came close to a deal on "sinks" that would let the US write off some emissions thanks to its forests, but only a fraction of what it originally wanted.

But that deal came to grief at the last minute because of divisions within the EU, notably from Germany, which said the concession was too much.

According to an EU source in Paris, the new talks will try to cover the sinks issue as well as three other big questions that bedevilled the Hague talks.

These are compliance provisions to punish treaty violators; funding for Third World countries to discourage them from become carbon polluters in turn; and whether to impose a cap on "carbon trading mechanisms" like the forest sinks.

But Hare said the final day's haggling at The Hague was so frenzied there was widespread confusion as to what the tentative deal had actually been.

In any case, an agreement among the industrialised countries would probably be limited to the sinks, as the other issues need an accord from the Group of 77 bloc of developing countries, he said.

In that case, the only prospect for Ottawa is a mini-deal that will not have been formally approved by a full session of Kyoto countries, which is unlikely to take place within the next six months.

"This would make it much harder" for Kyoto's supporters to claim the US was locked into a major deal that would have to be honoured by a Bush administration, Hare said.

Copyright © 2000 AFP