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Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK
Beyond Kyoto's sound and fury
George Bush and US flag AP
President George Bush: Intent on protecting US interests
BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby takes a personal look at the issues underlying attempts to rally support for the global climate treaty:

Attempts to revive the Kyoto Protocol reach a critical point on 22 April in New York.

About 40 countries' environment ministers will discuss a compromise designed to win American support.

President Bush said last month the US would not ratify the protocol, the global agreement on tackling climate change.

And the signs are that he still means exactly what he said.

Mr Bush said the protocol would impose unacceptable burdens on the US economy, and criticised it for not requiring developing states to act.

Toned down

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

Chinese child AP
China will soon be a major emitter
Together, they are committed to cut emissions by an average of 5.2% on their 1990 levels by 2012.

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

The Dutch environment minister, Jan Pronk, said the Bush administration was no longer insisting the protocol was dead.

"I don't hear it any more. I think it was a premature statement,'' Mr Pronk said. He chaired the United Nations climate change conference which broke down in The Hague last November.

Jan Pronk will not hear vociferous disagreement from the White House. This administration knows how to be courteous to its opponents.

But that does not mean that Mr Bush's distrust of Kyoto has evaporated.

When the failed Hague talks resume in Germany in July, the Americans will be there, ready to go on discussing climate change, which they agree is a serious problem.

They may well offer their own compromise. But just now it looks as if the gulf between them and the Europeans is too wide to bridge.

Those two fundamental US objections are hard to budge: that the protocol demands nothing of developing countries, and that it will harm the US economy.

Before long countries like China and India will be emitting huge quantities of greenhouse gases, and if they faced no limits they would have a strong economic advantage.

But Mr Bush must know that the protocol will in time limit them as well.

They argue that it was the industrialised countries that created the problem. And they have supporters in the US.

Need for fairness

Eileen Claussen is president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, based in Washington DC.

She says: "Achieving equitable climate commitments is an extraordinary challenge. But failure to bridge these differences would undermine any global effort to address climate change.

"If we do not make it fair, we cannot attract the broad-based support we need for effective international action."

President Bush also insists that accepting the reduction target Kyoto assigned the US - cuts of 7% on its 1990 emissions - would harm its business and industry.

John Prescott in floods PA
The UK's John Prescott hopes to bridge the gap
Its emissions have in fact risen so much recently that the real cuts needed under Kyoto are estimated at closer to 30% on 1990 levels.

That may explain American rejection of the protocol. It is a massive change for any country to contemplate.

Where Mr Bush is almost certainly wrong is in supposing that Kyoto means only pain without any gain.

Opportunity missed

Several countries stand to do well out of saving energy and selling clean technology. The US could do the same.

The conspiracy theorists say Mr Bush is in the grip of the oil industry, which has its own understandable reasons for opposing Kyoto.

But you need invoke no conspiracy to recognise that, for whatever reason, the US and Europe are poles apart.

Wishful thinking helps nobody. And Jan Pronk's tin ear does not mean that Kyoto is back on track.

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See also:

18 Apr 01 | Americas
US urged not to block Kyoto
11 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Crunch time nears for climate treaty
28 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
US blow to Kyoto hopes
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