Compromises to Kyoto surface at Bonn summit

Delegates yesterday remained steadfast that an agreement would be reached as talks near critical phase.

Sheaves of legal-sized papers replaced the Sunday newspaper yesterday as reading material of choice for many commuters on Bonn's subway.

These commuters are delegates to talks here designed to set the ground rules for implementing the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to curb industrial emissions thought to be responsible for altering earth's climate. They were poring over the "take it or leave it" proposals distilled by Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk, chairman of the talks, with the aim of reaching a formal agreement on many of the provisions at a plenary session scheduled for this morning.

"I think we will come away with an agreement," says a member of the Nigerian delegation. He adds that negotiators likely will sign off on enough provisions to declare the talks a success, but will defer a number of tougher details to the next set of global-climate talks, set for this fall in Marrakesh, Morocco. "We can't afford to go home empty-handed after the failure at the Hague," he says, referring to last November's negotiations.

One compromise focuses on using the carbon dioxide that forests and farmlands soak up - known as "sinks" - as credits against emissions targets. If adopted, the compromise would in effect cut the protocol's overall emissions target from a global average of 5.2 percent of 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012, to between 1.8 and 3 percent.

The liberal application of sinks to national emissions targets or for use as overseas projects would benefit countries such as Japan, Canada, and Russia, which face larger emissions cuts to reach their targets. In addition to sinks, sticking points have included:

* Rules governing implementation;

* The nature of carbon-stingy overseas development projects that countries would be allowed to use as credit against their targets;

* Whether developed countries would be required to pay into funds designed to help less-developed countries offset the effects of climate change or, in the case of OPEC countries, diversify economies that currently rely on oil exports.

In Genoa, Italy, leaders at the violence-plagued Group of Eight summit of leading industrial nations plus Russia struggled to include some reference to climate change in the meeting's final communique. Leaders from France, Germany, and Britain failed to sway President Bush to return to the Kyoto fold. In the end, the document acknowledged: "While there is currently disagreement on the Kyoto Protocol and its ratification, we are committed to working intensively together to meet our common objective." To that end, the G-8 leaders welcomed a proposal by Russia to host a separate climate conference within the next two years.

At the same time, Mr. Bush reportedly pledged to have an alternative proposal on climate change ready for the next set of United Nations-sponsored talks in Marrakesh. The White House later issued a clarification, saying the president had not set a deadline for the alternative proposal.

Nevertheless, the statement raised eyebrows among some activists here, who worry that the US statement may encourage countries such as Japan, Canada, and Australia to hold off support for a deal.

Bush's statement is a "tactic to stop progress here and kill the Kyoto Protocol," says Jennifer Morgan, who heads the World Wildlife Fund's global-climate campaign.

At a press briefing, German Environment Minister Jurgen Trittin noted that Bush has promised three times to have alternatives ready and has missed each deadline, suggesting there was nothing to be gained by pushing off a decision on support for the Pronk text. Moreover, he said, those proposals "would be outside the legal framework of the Kyoto Protocol" and shouldn't bear on decisions to conclude talks on implementation rules.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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