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Wednesday, 11 April, 2001, 16:55 GMT 17:55 UK
Compromise bid to save climate treaty
Rainforest BBC
The world's forests could hold immense carbon stores
By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby

The Dutch environment minister, Jan Pronk, is putting forward a plan designed to save the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Last month President Bush said the US, the world's most polluting nation, would not ratify the protocol.

Mr Pronk, who chairs the stalled negotiations on Kyoto, is offering the Americans significant concessions.

But it is far from certain that either the US or Europe will accept his ideas.

Mr Bush said the protocol would impose unacceptable burdens on the US economy, and criticised it as well because it does not yet require developing states to act.

Growing emissions

It requires 38 industrialised countries to reduce their emissions of six of the gases thought to be intensifying the natural greenhouse effect.

George Bush with umbrella AFP
George Bush: unworried by climate change?
Together, they are committed to cut emissions by an average of 5.2% on their 1990 levels by 2012.

Developing countries, some of which are set to become major emitters in their own right, will have to accept reductions later in the process.

Mr Pronk was chairman of the conference held in The Hague last November to try to finalise the workings of the protocol.

The talks collapsed over a basic disagreement between the US and the European Union over where the emission cuts could be made.

The Americans and their supporters wanted to be able to pay for pollution reduction schemes in other countries, and then count the emissions saved against their own targets.

They also wanted to be allowed wide use of what the protocol calls "sinks" - forests and farmland which soak up carbon dioxide as the trees and plants grow.

Their critics said this could mean the Americans reached their Kyoto targets without making any actual cuts at all in their domestic emissions.

The Pronk plan suggests allowing countries to meet their targets by counting their own forests as sinks, and letting them pay for sinks in foreign countries as well.

It also offers a framework to let signatories to the protocol buy and sell emission credits from each other.

This would mean, for instance, that the US could buy unused emission rights from a country like Russia or Ukraine, which cannot afford to burn the fuel that would cause the pollution the protocol allows it to emit.

Likely sceptics

The EU argued at The Hague that countries should have to achieve at least 50% of their emission reductions through action at home.

Russian factory BBC
Russia could gain from carbon trading
Mr Pronk's plan is understood to place no limit on the extent to which protocol signatories could reach their targets through financing projects abroad and by buying emission credits.

For this reason alone, many EU governments are likely to be highly sceptical. And it seems doubtful that Jan Pronk will manage to change George Bush's mind.

Kalee Kreider works for a Washington DC-based campaign group, the National Environmental Trust.

No plan

She told BBC News Online: "The Pronk plan gives each side a little of what they're looking for. And the good news is that he's got this out early, which improves the prospects of agreement when the Hague talks resume in Bonn in July.

"But given the lack of sophistication of the Bush team, I doubt that the plan will cause them to shift towards suddenly embracing Kyoto.

"The new administration has no coherent plan on the climate. It doesn't know what it wants, it just knows what it doesn't want.

"People in the White House aren't all that busy on climate change, you know."

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See also:

11 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Crunch time nears for climate treaty
02 Apr 01 | Americas
Bush urged to rethink Kyoto snub
29 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
US facing climate isolation
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