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Wednesday, 28 March, 2001, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
US blow to Kyoto hopes
George W Bush and US flag
President Bush: Keen to see the burdens shared
By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Hopes that the world could agree a modest first step to tackle climate change have been dashed by the US.

We have no interest in implementing that treaty

Environmental Protection Agency chief
A senior official says it will not implement the Kyoto Protocol, the international climate treaty.

The official, Christie Todd Whitman, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, said the US would remain "engaged" with the issue.

But with Congress clearly refusing to ratify the protocol, she said, the US would not implement it. She told journalists: "We have no interest in implementing that treaty.

"If there's a general agreement that we need to be addressing the global climate change issue, how do we do it in a way that allows us to make some progress, instead of spending time committed to something that isn't going to go?"

Not alone

In a reference to the fact that no other industrialised country has yet ratified the protocol, Ms Whitman said: "We are not the only ones who have problems with it."

President Chirac at The Hague AP
The Hague talks got nowhere
The Kyoto Protocol commits industrialised nations to cut their emissions of the main gases that some scientists claim are rapidly warming the planet - gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2).

By 2012, they would have to cut emissions by an average of 5.2% on their 1990 levels - a small reduction, but a hugely symbolic one.

The US would have to cut its emissions by 7%. It is responsible for about 25% of global emissions of CO2, the main "pollutant" covered by Kyoto, but argues that this is not unreasonable as it produces more wealth than any other country.

The protocol will enter into force only when 55% of the industrialised countries which have signed it have also ratified it.

Attempts to finalise the details of its workings collapsed at talks last November in The Hague. They are due to resume in the German city of Bonn in July.

No exemptions

Those who see Kyoto as an essential first step in confronting climate change say it should be ratified as soon as possible, and certainly no later than the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, to be held in Johannesburg.

Smog in Kuala Lumpur AP
Third world emissions are rising fast
The fundamental objection of the US to the protocol is its concentration on emissions from industrialised countries, and its refusal at this stage to seek to limit pollution from developing nations.

Kyoto's supporters say this is entirely fair, because they argue that the problem has been caused by the rich world's profligate use of coal, oil and gas.

But the US and some other countries point out that the emissions of rapidly developing countries like India and China will soon be set to match their own.

They believe every country should be asked to share the burdens now. If the treaty were amended to do that, the Bush administration's objections would probably fall away.

The resumption of the stalled Hague talks in Bonn had been seen as perhaps the last realistic chance to secure the ratification of the treaty in time to allow most signatories to cut their emissions by the amounts they originally agreed.

Few options

But it is hard to see how Bonn can do anything to involve the Americans without a major rewrite of the protocol.

Failing that, it would be possible to ratify Kyoto without US involvement, if those ratifying it account for 55% of industrialised country emissions.

And the Americans could always come to Bonn with counter-proposals of their own.

But one unconfirmed report from Washington said a White House official had asked the State Department what it could do to pull out of the treaty.

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Is the US right to ditch the Kyoto deal?
See also:

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