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Sunday, 17 June, 2001, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
Five weeks to settle climate rift
Protesters
Bush's Europe visit attracted protests
By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Whatever the degree of mayhem outside on the streets of Gothenburg, Texan charm clearly had a field day at the summit table within.

There were - officially at least - no accusations of American perfidy on climate change, or of European paranoia. The two sides simply agreed blandly to disagree for the moment.

But the time for reaching any real agreement is very short.

At issue is President Bush's outright rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement on tackling climate change. That requires developed countries to reduce their total emissions of greenhouse gases to 5.2% below their 1990 levels over the next decade.

The Hague conference last November was meant to finalise the protocol's working and open the way to its ratification and entry into force next year.

But the talks collapsed and will resume in the German city of Bonn next month.

Kyoto in peril

In March, though, Mr Bush repudiated Kyoto. He questioned the science of climate change, he said the protocol would damage the US economy, and he complained that it did not require developing countries to cut their emissions.

George Bush
Bush: Outright rejection of Kyoto
Despite this, the Americans are going to Bonn. Shortly before the talks they will unveil their own proposals for action on global warming, which Mr Bush acknowledges is serious and urgent.

So Bonn will have to choose between trying to make the protocol work without US involvement, or starting afresh and going along with the American plan.

A lot will depend on other countries. If Japan or Australia or Canada, for example, decided to back the US plan, Kyoto could be fatally damaged.

But in any case the decision will not be taken in Bonn. Usually conferences like this start with a week or so of negotiations between officials, with government ministers flying in only for the last few days to bang heads together over the really intractable details.

Bonn, though, will be different. It starts on 18 July, and the ministers will meet from then till Friday of that week.

Decision rests with G8

Whatever agreement, if any, they manage to reach will be relayed to the meeting over the week-end of the G8 heads of government in the Italian port of Genoa.

Kyoto treaty
Signed by 38 industrialised nations in 1997
Countries committed to cut emissions of six greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2010
Ratified by none of the 15 EU states

And it is the G8 leaders who will take the real decision. The environment ministers may meet again in Bonn in the second week.

But officials are telling journalists there will be no point in returning to Germany, because everything will have been settled already.

Another round of talks on the protocol is planned for Marrakech in Morocco next November. Not surprisingly, though, doubts are now surfacing about whether the Marrakech conference will ever happen.

So the time for agreeing how to square up to a problem that virtually all politicians accept is real comes down to little more than a month. Kyoto, which no-one regards as perfect but many see as a workable first step, was about 10 years in the making.

Abandoning it now would offend a lot of people. But if the American plan won enough support to replace it as the only game in town, Kyoto would be lost.

Only the pessimists suppose that agreeing to disagree may become a habit, and that August will dawn with agreement that there will be no climate change deal of any kind.

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