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David Sandalow
"This is an epic environmental struggle"
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BBC environment correspondent, Margaret Gilmore
"Only a handful of countries have actually reduced emissions."
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The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt
"The developing countries control a majority of votes in this meeting"
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Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 16:18 GMT
Climate talks 'critical' for US
Climate change convention AFP
The conference is scheduled to last 11 days
This week's United Nations meeting on climate change at The Hague will be crucial in determining whether the United States meets its future targets for reducing emissions, the leader of the country's delegation has said.

David Sandalow told the BBC that the meeting was a critical opportunity for countries to come together and make real progress in the "environmental struggle".

He said the ability of the US to achieve cuts in emissions set at a meeting in Kyoto three years ago depended on a number of factors including those agreed on in the Netherlands.

"If we can succeed in The Hague, if we can continue to see the progress that we've already seen in the United States, I think the answer is yes," he said.

Some observers believe the stance of the US at the conference will play a key role in its overall success or failure.

Carbon sinks

Sir Crispin Tickell, the former British ambassador to the UN, told BBC News Online's special climate change webcast on Monday: "We have a real problem in so far as the biggest industrial country in the world has not even submitted the (Kyoto Protocol) agreement to congress.

"The Americans in this area are very much the villains of the piece. They've not gone along with Kyoto and yet they are unquestionably the largest polluter with 4% of the world's population and 25% of greenhouse gas emissions," he said.

But David Sandalow told the BBC in an interview on Tuesday that the US was starting to win the battle against greenhouse gas emissions.

"In the last two years, our economic growth has been 8%," he said.

"In that time period, our greenhouse gas emissions growth has been 1%. We are proving that economic growth and emissions growth don't need to go together."

Carbon 'sinks'

Some experts are critical of the United States' desire to use forests to soak up carbon dioxide rather than cut emissions at source. But David Sandolow said he did not agree with that argument.

"Forest and farmlands play an essential role in the carbon cycle and it doesn't make sense to ignore them in the fight against global warming," he said.

"By promoting growth in forest and farmlands we can provide all kinds of environmental benefits in other areas - we can help to protect biodiversity, we can protect water quality as well."

Representatives of more than 150 governments started negotiations in the Netherlands on Monday.

Ministerial arrival

The task facing delegates is to find the common ground on which all government can agree policies to curb the so-called "greenhouse gases" like CO2 and methane.

The Kyoto Protocol calls for a cut in six of these gases to 5.2% below their 1990 level by no later than 2012.

The Sixth Session of the Conference of the Parties (Cop6) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will attempt to move the signatories closer to final approval and implementation of the Kyoto action plan.

But it will be next week before Cop6 comes to any conclusions. Only in the last few days will ministers arrive at The Hague to conclude discussions and finalise any decisions.

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See also:

11 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
'Massive' pollution cuts needed
11 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Clinton's climate change warning
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