Climate conference
to finish Kyoto pact

150 nations to outline rules despite U.S. veto

By Andrew C. Revkin, The New York Times

With the United States in attendance but sitting on the sidelines, more than 150 countries begin 12 days of talks in Morocco today aimed at completing the rules for the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty requiring cuts in gases linked to global warming.

The goal of many of the countries at the meeting, in Marrakesh, is to achieve enough consensus on details that the treaty can be ratified and enacted next year, the 10th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit, where a previous, but voluntary, climate treaty was forged.

After that nonbinding agreement failed to achieve reductions in the gas emissions, countries began the protracted talks leading to the binding commitments outlined in the Kyoto Accord in 1997.

But proponents of enacting the treaty are hampered by two things: persistent disagreements over how to measure gas reductions and levy penalties when a target is missed, and the rejection of the treaty by President Bush in March.

Several countries, most notably Japan, have said it would be difficult to ratify the agreement if the United States, the largest producer of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, did not join in.

Japan plays a pivotal role. Under the complex arithmetic of the treaty, it takes effect only when it is ratified by countries accounting for 55 percent of gas that industrial countries emitted in 1990. Without the United States, almost any combination of nations can reach that plateau only if Japan goes along.

Public opinion in Japan is strongly in favor of the Kyoto treaty. But industries there have intensively lobbied against it, Japanese officials said, in part because they fear that they would incur costs not shared by U.S. industries if the pollution rules took effect.

"Our government thinks that it is extremely important to have one international rule and that every country should act," a senior Japanese environmental official said. "Participation by the U.S.A. is very, very important."

Japanese officials have met three times with the Bush administration since mid-September to discuss climate change, but not ways to make the treaty acceptable to the United States, officials from other governments said.

Bush and many senators hae said the accord would harm the economy and unfairly require only the industrial nations to cut emissions, while fast-growing developing countries like China face no such constraints.

Administration officials said Friday that they were attending the meeting only to prevent measures from being adopted that might saddle the United Sates with indirect costs or create harmful precedents.

They said that Bush's rejection of the treaty was final, but that the administration still planned to pursue other approaches to the problem.

"Our position is that climate change is an important issue and one which President Bush has stated we're seriously committed to addressing," Paula J. Dobriansky, the undersecretary of state for global affairs, said.

There are plenty of other obstacles to enactment of the treaty, with or without the United States.

The bargaining has come down to the wire, in the same way that negotiations between a home buyer and seller reach the point of debating who keeps the washing machine and who pays for repairing the roof.

But in this case, there are dozens of parties affected, not just wo. And each faces a different set of consequences should the treaty take effect.

Disagreements over details of the treaty were whittled down significantly at the last bargaining session, held in Bonn in July. But last week, news reports from Europe make it clear that substantial differences still exist.

Germany, with a government influenced by a strong Green Party, has said no new credit should be granted to countries with vast forests for the role trees play in absorbing carbon dioxide released by smokestacks and exhaust pipes. Russia, in contrast, has pressed for more such credits.

Some countries were still hoping that the United States would rejoin the treaty.

But experts involved in the negotiations said the attacks on September 11, by greatly increasing the popularity of Bush, lessened the likelihood that there would be a shift in the U.S. position any time soon.

Andrew C. Revkin
The New York Times October 29, 2001.

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