Mon, Dec 20, 2004 - Page 1 News List

EU, US agree to compromise at UN climate talks


Participants at a UN climate change conference agreed on Saturday to hold informal international talks in Bonn in May on future efforts to fight global warming.

The agreement came after two nights of marathon talks that extended the official close of the conference by a day.

The question of what to do once the Kyoto Protocol on climate change expires in 2012 dominated the two-week conference of 2,000 diplomats and a clutch of environment ministers.

The gathering in May sets the stage for international experts to begin tackling that problem, but it has been billed as a "seminar" to emphasize that no decisions will be taken.

Brazil and India demanded further language stating that "this seminar does not open any negotiations leading to new commitments."

Emerging industrial giants are reluctant to sign on to international efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, for fear they could throw the brakes on their own economic growth.

The agreement reflects a compromise struck by the EU and the US that saved the UN climate change conference at the 11th hour.

The EU wanted several informal meetings on strengthening the international fight against climate change that would include the US. Washington insisted on a single meeting at which participants would only exchange information on the environmental policies of different countries.

The compromise calls for a single meeting, as the US had wanted. But, in keeping with European wishes, the meeting will last for several days, and the future of climate change negotiations will be up for discussion.

Most high-level delegates had already flown home as the haggling dragged on into Saturday. It appeared for several hours Friday that the conference might end with no agreement at all.

French environment minister Serge Lepeltier said he preferred no agreement to a bad one.

"The situation is tense, ... but our position is we should not be systematically drawn into a bad agreement," Lepeltier said. "We don't want a deal at any price."

Because it did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the US will only be an observer at the next round of talks on ways to counter global warming.

The EU believes that any post-Kyoto accord would have no meaning without the US, the source of 23 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.

To ensure that the US is involved in the talks, Argentina proposed "a seminar of experts" -- which Washington agreed to attend as long as there was no talk of the future.

Official talks on measures to follow the Kyoto Protocol, which goes into effect in February and runs until 2012, are to start in November.

Kyoto commits industrialized countries who signed the protocol to trimming output of six "greenhouse" gases, especially carbon dioxide, by at least 5.2 percent by 2012, compared with 1990 levels.

Environmentalists regretted the US stance and the lack of agreement.

"Shocking things have occurred," said Jennifer Morgan of the World Wildlife Fund. "The Bush administration made it very clear that they are not willing under any circumstances to talk about the future."

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