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Sunday, 15 July, 2001, 21:54 GMT 22:54 UK
Storm clouds over climate talks
Indian farmers harvesting wheat AFP
Global warming is a big threat to Indian agriculture
By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Only the professional optimists are predicting complete success for this week's resumed climate talks, which get under way on Monday in the German city of Bonn.

The realists speak of wide differences still to be overcome, but hope to salvage something.

The pessimists expect the end of the Kyoto Protocol, the global climate treaty, and a descent into environmental anarchy.

The one point all agree on is that time to turn talk into action is short.

This week's talks are intended to succeed where last November's conference in The Hague so spectacularly failed.

Acrimony and failure

Called to finalise the rules for measuring and cutting emissions of the greenhouse gases, which many scientists now believe are causing the atmosphere to warm, the talks in The Hague fell apart acrimoniously.

Key issues
Role of carbon "sinks"
Funds for developing countries
Buying and selling emission rights
Ensuring compliance with Kyoto Protocol
The European Union was at loggerheads with the US and its allies.

The grounds for their disagreement are now history. The US has a new president, and George W Bush refuses to ratify Kyoto at all, though he says he does take climate change seriously.

Once the protocol's rules are agreed - if they ever are - it will enter into force when it has been ratified by 55% of signatories, responsible for 55% of the developed world's greenhouse emissions in 1990.

Arithmetic

And here comes Bonn's brutally simple arithmetic.

Pro-Kyoto demonstration in Gothenburg, Sweden
The US rejection of Kyoto triggered mass protests
With the US, responsible for 36% of those emissions, now out of the picture, the only way to get Kyoto ratified is to ensure that the EU, eastern Europe, Russia and Japan do ratify it.

Of the four, Japan is the unknown.

Traditionally its diplomacy is closely aligned with Washington's. But it has hinted that it might support Kyoto despite the US. It is trying to exact concessions from the other signatories.

Japan has already been told it can rely more than the rest on carbon "sinks" like forests and vegetation to meet its emission reduction targets.

The EU, and many environmental campaigners, do not like sinks. They fear they will allow countries to go on polluting almost as normal, relying on nature to absorb their emissions.

And several scientists say sinks may do much less than believed to solve the problem.

If Japan refuses to ratify it, Kyoto will become a dead letter, though it could always sign up later.

Wide-ranging agenda

The realists say the conference president, the Dutch Environment Minister, Jan Pronk, is ambitious in hoping for a cut-and-dried deal at the end of the ministerial session, which takes place from 19-22 July.

New York scene
The US emits more greenhouse gases than any other country
Certainly there is a huge amount of ground to be covered this week.

A UN Environment Programme briefing notes: "Positions remain far apart on a number of issues." There are four key areas, with the role of carbon sinks probably the trickiest.

Another is funding for developing countries, for technology transfer and to help them to cope with the impacts of climate change. Mr Pronk has suggested $1bn a year for this.

A third problem area includes the system for buying and selling emission rights - "carbon trading" - and how far developed countries can pay to reduce emissions in the developing world and then offset the results against their own targets.

Launch new window : Glossary
Click above to launch a climate change glossary.
And the fourth problem is how to ensure compliance with the protocol.

So Bonn could well end in tears. But international agreements are not the last word on reality.

Out there in the real world, many businesses and many people already take climate change seriously enough to be doing something about it. Keeping that momentum alive is what almost all the participants want.


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16 Jul 01 | Business
15 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
08 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
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18 May 01 | Business
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06 Apr 01 | Science/Nature
30 Mar 01 | Americas
29 Mar 01 | Science/Nature
28 Mar 01 | Science/Nature
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