U.S. Turns Down Meeting on Climate Change

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 19, 2000 (ENS) - The United States has rejected an offer to meet European Union ministers this week on the issue of global warming.

U.S. chief negotiator, Frank Loy, said convening ministers, but then failing to reach agreement, would not advance common goals.

Loy

U.S. chief negotiator, Frank Loy. (Photos courtesy Leila Mead/IISD)
The ministerial talks scheduled for Oslo, Norway later this week have been cancelled. The attempt to restart negotiations follows the collapse of last month's climate summit in The Hague, Netherlands.

The 6th Conference of Parties (COP 6) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ended in failure largely because of European Union countries and a U.S. led group of nations' inability to agree on critical issues.

In particular, the question of whether forest sinks should be allowed to generate emission reduction credits under the clean development mechanism remains a major hurdle.

The idea of planting forests to sequester carbon dioxide (CO2) was one of the more controversial proposals designed to help countries meet greenhouse gas emissions targets.

The 15 member European Union leads those countries who argue that such flexible mechanisms should not come at the expense of countries making real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions at home. The U.S. leads a so called Umbrella Group of nations, including Canada, Australia and Japan, pushing for a looser interpretation of emissions targets and how they should be achieved.

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COP 6 ends in failure.
Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, 39 industrialized nations committed to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012. But the Protocol will not take effect until it is ratified by 55 percent of the nations emitting at least 55 percent of the six greenhouse gases.

COP 6 was supposed to provide the basis for ratification and entry into force of the Protocol by 2002.

Since its failure, ministers tried to stitch a deal back together in Ottawa earlier this month, to no avail. "This was the last throw for the Hague," said UK deputy prime minister John Prescott of the scrapped Oslo meeting.

On Monday, European Union environment ministers held a telephone conference with Umbrella group representatives on day one of their quarterly Environment Council meeting in Brussels.

During the discussion, Loy, said the proposed Oslo meeting would risk being a failure because there were too many fundamental differences between the two blocs.

Illustrating these divisions, both sides accused the other of reneging on elements for a deal agreed in The Hague and of adding new demands.

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French environment minister and Environment Council president Dominique Voynet.
In a letter sent to European Union ministers before the telephone conference, Loy said "sinks must not be excluded from the clean development mechanism, explicitly or implicitly." Any European Union perception that the U.S. position had been different showed an "apparent misunderstanding" on the part of the Europeans, he wrote.

"You can judge for yourself who is respecting the spirit of The Hague and who is not," said French environment minister and Environment Council president Dominique Voynet.

"It was clearly written [in The Hague] that there wouldn't be sinks in the clean development mechanism. It's difficult to understand if there is or is not a will [in the U.S.] to succeed."

Loy said he was "particularly disappointed" that the European Union had "reopened numerous settled matters, such as domestic action and compliance consequences, on which there was not misunderstanding in The Hague, and added a number of new demands."

Some European Union ministers believe compromise with the U.S. will be even harder to reach under when new U.S. President George Bush takes office.

"Certainly the negotiating machinery changes when George Bush comes in, that is why this window of opportunity is absolutely important to get some settlement now," Prescott told BBC radio.

"If we don't get an agreement, all will be losers, whether it's [Bill] Clinton's regime or Bush's regime," Prescott said. Clinton leaves office on January 20.

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UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. (Photo courtesy British Waterways)
Greenpeace International accused the U.S. and the Umbrella Group of confirming its judgment on COP 6, which was that it "would be remembered as the moment when governments abandoned the promise of global cooperation to protect planet earth."

"The U.S. continues to insist on exploiting loopholes in the original Kyoto Treaty, rather than taking the threat of climate change seriously and addressing its domestic greenhouse gas emissions, which are the largest in the world," said Greenpeace spokesman Michel Raquet.

The U.S. accounts for four percent of the world's population but produces 25 percent of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions.

"One can only hope and pray that the newly elected George W. Bush will realize that whatever mandate he does have, it is not one that allows him to destroy the climate."

Ministers' next official opportunity to discuss climate change will be in Bonn, Germany, May 2001, at the 14th session of the Subsidiary Bodies of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

COP 7 is scheduled to take place from October 29 to November 9, 2001, in Marrakech, Morocco.

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}