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Friday, 29 June, 2001, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Climate treaty gulf yawns wide
Jan Pronk, lifebuoy and oilskinned protestors AP
A lifebuoy: A present for Jan Pronk from climate campaigners
By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Crisis talks aimed at saving the Kyoto Protocol on climate change have ended with little progress to report.

The informal talks were supposed to clear the way for a deal on the protocol's working at a conference in Germany in July.

But the chairman, Jan Pronk, the Dutch environment minister, said there were still big differences unresolved. And the prospect of agreement next month is far from certain.

As the talks ended, Mr Pronk said: "The positions are still wide apart."

The Swedish environment minister, Kjell Larsson, said: "There are still big differences in opinions. There are no guarantees that we can reach a broad agreement in Bonn."

The protocol, the global treaty on tackling climate change, requires developed countries to cut their emissions of the gases many scientists say are accelerating global climate change.

Collapse and repudiation

Over the next ten years they are committed to reduce emissions to an average of 5.2% below their 1990 levels.

Talks in The Hague last November aimed at finalising the protocol's working, also chaired by Mr Pronk, collapsed in disagreement between the European Union (EU) and the US.

Then in March President Bush announced that the US would in any case not ratify Kyoto.

Smoking factory chimneys BBC
Kyoto would start to curb pollution levels
To enter into force, it must have been ratified by at least 55 of the signatory countries, responsible together for at least 55% of the industrialised world's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 1990.

The US then accounted for 36% of developed countries' CO2. For the treaty to enter into force without American participation will require the EU, Japan and Russia all to ratify it.

This week's talks in The Hague were held to consider a compromise tabled by Jan Pronk, designed to achieve agreement at next month's ministerial conference in Bonn and avoid a repeat of last November's fiasco.

The compromise seeks to offer Japan and Russia enough inducements to persuade them to ratify the treaty. But the signs are that Japan, at least, is not yet persuaded.

Sticking point

Russian officials said they would seek ratification, but wanted more recognition of the part their country's forests and steppes could play as CO2 "sinks", vegetation which can absorb carbon.

Carbon sinks are one of the sticking points in the Kyoto negotiations, because if countries can claim that much of their emissions will be absorbed naturally in this way, they will say they can afford to emit more pollution overall.

Family in snow in Red Square BBC
Russia wants money to improve its people's lives
Japan also wants to make more use of sinks, and Mr Pronk's plan would let it write off nearly 60% of its assigned emission reductions through sinks, compared with 50% for other industrialised countries.

The Japanese are reported to be pressing for even greater concessions, though this may be simply a negotiating tactic - they are reluctant to ratify the protocol without the US, to which they are usually diplomatically close.

The US is still involved in the Kyoto negotiations, and was at this week's talks.

Future problems

It says it remains active partly to protect its own interests. And US sources said some parts of Mr Pronk's plan "would set unfortunate precedents" for other international agreements.

But some observers believe a deal in Bonn is still possible. John Lanchbery, of the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, has followed the climate talks for years.

He told BBC News Online: "I think there's a good chance of an agreement next month. Whether it'll be good for the environment is another matter."

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