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Tuesday, 21 November, 2000, 22:20 GMT
Time running out for climate agreement
Conference president Jan Pronk
Jan Pronk urged all parties to listen and compromise
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby in The Hague

The president of the UN climate conference, now in its second week in The Hague, says the chances of a successful outcome are no higher than 50-50.

The last few days have been marked by deep divisions between the United States and European countries over strategies for reducing the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions which cause global warming.


People are showing that they want a compromise

Conference President Jan Pronk
The president, the Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk, told journalists the delegates had now begun negotiations "of substance", but said positions were still quite far apart.

With the conference due to end on 24 November, he was urging countries to compromise.

But the prospects for any agreement on some issues remain slight.

Efforts at compromise

Mr Pronk said his greatest worry had been allayed - the conference had moved from discussing procedure to negotiating in earnest.

A Greenpeace activist
A Greenpeace activist: the lobbying goes on
"There is a very constructive mood", he said.

"People are showing that they want a compromise."

Mr Pronk said he was urging people to listen to each other, and to explore the possibilities of compromise. "I try to encourage them to give and take", he said.

The conference is trying to finalise the workings of the international treaty on climate change, the Kyoto Protocol, so that it can be ratified and then enter into force.

Divided

But the meeting is deeply split between two blocs.

Save the climate banner
The European Union, supported by most environmental campaign groups, says the industrialised countries must take real action at home to cut their emissions of the greenhouse gases which many scientists believe are intensifying the climate's natural variability.

The EU says at least 50% of the cuts in emissions which countries have to make must be in domestic pollution.

Against this, the US and its supporters say it does not matter where the cuts are made.


We're past the time for rhetoric - we need give and take

US negotiator Frank Loy
And they want to exploit the protocol's "flexibility mechanisms" in ways that could conceivably leave them making no cuts at all in their own emissions, but still reaching their Kyoto reduction targets.

The chief US negotiator, Frank Loy, said he was encouraged by the progress the delegates were making.

The most difficult issues were still ahead, he conceded.

Call for flexibility

And he said: "It's time now that we commit ourselves to a pragmatic, not a dogmatic approach. We're past the time for rhetoric - we need give and take. The US has shown flexibility."

Conference leaders make a point of arriving by scooter
The mayor of The Hague gave scooters to delegates
Asked to suggest examples of American flexibility, Mr Loy said it had dropped its earlier demand that developing countries should commit themselves to "meaningful" involvement in the Kyoto process at this stage - they do not yet have emission reduction targets they have to meet.

The protocol requires a global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries of 5.2% below their 1990 levels by 2010, with the US committed to a 7% cut.

Mr Loy said that the US now faced a reduction of 35% from 1990's levels, because since then its economy had resulted in a 28% increase in emissions.

The EU has rejected as "unacceptable" a US proposal about the use of forests to absorb carbon dioxide - the protocol allows some use of such "carbon sinks", and the conference is at an impasse over what role they should play.

Mr Loy said he did not want to comment specifically on the EU's rejection.

But he said the reasons which had prompted the US to make the proposal remained totally valid.

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