Nations rescue global warming pact, though U.S. withdrawal punches hole
BONN, Germany (AP) – Negotiators from around the world agreed on rules for cutting greenhouse gases Monday, rescuing the first treaty to combat global warming and challenging the United States to join the effort.
In a sign of U.S. isolation, the American delegate was booed when she told the gathering that the Bush administration was committed to tackling climate change even though it rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, poking a giant hole in its effectiveness.
The deal, reached by diplomats from 178 nations after 48 straight hours of tense bargaining, opens the way for countries to ratify the protocol and bring it into force.
But without the United States – which emits one-quarter of global greenhouse gases – the treaty loses considerable force. And Japan refuses to commit to ratifying the accord as long as the United States is not on board.
”We understand it is not a perfect protocol, but it is more imperfect with the withdrawal of the United States,” said European Union Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom.
President Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol in March, saying the emissions cut requirements would be harmful to U.S. business and complaining they applied only to developed countries, omitting major polluters like China and India.
Still, European nations were determined to reach a deal at Bonn to launch the climate change pact, and they said Washington would be welcome to join later.
”It’s a first step,” EU chief negotiator Olivier Deleuze said. ”To bring the United States on board, we first needed a boat. Now we have a boat.”
The talks worked out rules to govern the Kyoto pact, which commits industrialized nations to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon dioxide from cars, power plants and factories.
During two sleepless nights of bargaining, Japan emerged as the key holdout. With the United States standing aside, Japan’s acceptance was the key to bringing the Kyoto deal into force.
When conference chairman Jan Pronk finally signaled adoption of a deal with the rap of a gavel Monday, he was greeted by a standing ovation.
In the end, Japan agreed to postpone until later negotiations the issue of how to enforce emissions cuts. Tokyo opposes making penalties for countries that fail to meet their targets legally binding.
Europe backed down and softened limits on how countries can offset obligations to cut pollution by counting the proper management of ”sinks” – forests and farmlands, which absorb carbon dioxide. Japan, Australia, Canada and Russia had sought higher limits.
The final deal also provides for emissions trading – buying and selling the right to pollute.
Environmental groups said the heavy allowance for sinks effectively alters the commitment in the Kyoto accord to cut emissions by 5.2 percent from their 1990 levels. In fact, the effective emissions cut would be closer to 1.8 percent, the World Wildlife Fund said.
The EU announced a $410 million fund to help developing nations trying to clean up emissions so they can one day join the treaty.
The treaty must be ratified by 55 nations responsible for 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions to take force.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who broke the deadlock in telephone contacts with his minister in Bonn, insisted that U.S. participation was key to whether his country would accept the treaty.
”It is important that all countries act under one single rule,” Koizumi said in a statement Monday.
U.S. chief delegate Paula Dobriansky drew boos from the gallery Monday.
”Although the United States does not intend to ratify that agreement, we have not sought to stop others from moving ahead, so long as legitimate U.S. interests were protected,” she said.
”This does not change our view the Kyoto Protocol is not sound policy.” Bush has promised his own proposals, but his delegation showed up in Bonn empty-handed.
Dobriansky noted that the deal does not require the United States to fund any part of the treaty, one of Washington’s chief concerns.
U.S. officials also said the emissions trading system is too restrictive and that industrial countries should have been given more voting power in the pact’s enforcement bodies.
Conference chairman Pronk and key delegates were holed up through the night and into Monday morning, bargaining over a draft accord Pronk crafted to avoid a failure like at the last conference in November.
The breakthrough came at about 10 a.m. when Japanese Environment Minister Yuriko Kawaguchi looked at the latest compromise proposal ”and said, basically, ‘We can accept everything here,”’ conference spokesman Michael Williams said.
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