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Wednesday, 11 April, 2001, 07:32 GMT 08:32 UK
Crunch time nears for climate treaty
George Bush at desk AP
The Oval Office: The buck stops here, but climate diplomacy may not
By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Convinced of the gravity of climate change, the European Union is trying to build an impregnable coalition committed to action.

Last month President Bush said the US would not ratify the global climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol.

The EU hopes to ensure the protocol comes into force ratified by enough countries to outweigh the US.

And next week offers an opportunity to test the world's will for ratification.

An EU delegation which has visited Moscow, Teheran, Beijing and Tokyo to seek support for the protocol says it has found strong support for the pact.

China, Russia and Japan are the main emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2) after the US. Iran was included as it holds the chairmanship of the non-aligned countries' bloc, the Group of 77.

Fringe meeting

The protocol requires 38 industrialised countries to reduce their emissions of CO2 and five other gases thought to be intensifying natural climate change.

Chicago lakeside BBC
The Great Lakes could start to dry out
They are jointly committed to reductions averaging just over 5% on 1990 levels by 2010.

Next week the focus shifts to the US itself, where environment ministers from many countries will be gathering in New York for a meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD).

The Dutch environment minister, Jan Pronk, who chaired the climate conference which broke down in The Hague last November, has invited 40 of his counterparts to a meeting on the fringes of the CSD session on 21 April.

The meeting is being described as "informal ministerial consultations", but it is clear that it could decide whether or not the Kyoto Protocol has a future.

Analysts see three possible outcomes when the Hague talks resume in the German city of Bonn in July.

Stunned but unmoved

The US, they say, might put forward a reasonable proposal which other countries were ready to discuss, enabling the Kyoto process to continue.

It could, though, table something the rest of the world rejected out of hand. In that case the other signatories could either implement the protocol without the US, or abandon the whole idea.

Jan Pronk UN
Jan Pronk: US-bound (Photo courtesy of UN Climate Convention)
One US climate expert told BBC News Online: "The Bush administration has painted itself into a corner on Kyoto.

"They were all stunned by the international reaction to the President's repudiation of the protocol. But they're not going to be moved by it.

"Bush is completely egocentric and isolationist, intent on 'what's good for America'.

"If he is to change, probably the only thing that will change him is American business, which doesn't want to lose the opportunities the protocol offers for trading emission permits and selling clean technology.

No ducking

"If the rest of the world spoke with one voice, Bush might listen. But my sense at the moment is that they're all just moaning and groaning.

"They need a unified strategy - and next week is the chance to hammer one out."

A source close to the Kyoto negotiations told BBC News Online: "Next week's meeting will be an important indicator of whether Kyoto can stay afloat. The ministers won't be able to duck the big issues there."

If President Bush needs a reminder that the US itself will feel the effects of climate change, he will receive one this week.

On 13 April the US National Science and Technology Council will publish a report reviewing the costs and benefits to the US of a warming world.

Parts of the US, the report says, can expect higher farm yields. But the Great Lakes may begin to dry out, and sea level rise will mean far-reaching change for half the American population.

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See also:

09 Apr 01 | Americas
China and Japan support Kyoto treaty
07 Apr 01 | Americas
EU ready to renegotiate Kyoto
07 Apr 01 | Americas
US plans 'Kyoto alternative'
28 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
US blow to Kyoto hopes
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