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Friday, 20 July, 2001, 06:15 GMT 07:15 UK
Trees at root of climate row
Demonstrators in Bonn
Protesters are pushing for the protocol to be adopted
Differences over the role of trees in tackling global warming are emerging as the main obstacle to an agreement at the international climate talks in Bonn.

Ministers from 180 countries have gathered in Germany to resume efforts aimed at saving the Kyoto Protocol, the international climate treaty. They have until 22 July to conclude a deal.

Arguments over whether forests should be used as "sinks" to soak up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere led to the collapse of the last round of talks in November.

Do not waste our past efforts. [Kyoto] is the only game in town

Jan Pronk
conference president
Since then US President George W Bush has said the US will not ratify the protocol, which committed industrialised countries to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

On Thursday, the opening of the Bonn meeting heard an impassioned plea for the speedy ratification of Kyoto.

Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk, the conference president, said: "Do not start all over again. Do not waste our past efforts. [Kyoto] is the only game in town. It is the best we have."

But all the signs are that a wide gap remains over "carbon sinks" - forests, grassland and other vegetation which can absorb carbon dioxide, and which countries can count towards their own emission reduction targets.

Launch new window : Glossary
Click above to launch a climate change glossary.
The countries wanting to make wide use of sinks are Australia, Canada, Russia and Japan.

Queensland forest
Countries like Australia want to make more use of "sinks"
They represent 70% of the land area of the industrialised countries that have to cut their emissions under the protocol, and 70% of their forests, so sinks could obviously be very important for them.

Japan's support for the protocol is vital - if it does not ratify it, the treaty is likely to become a dead letter.

Japan and its allies want to make far more generous use of sinks than the European Union countries, and unless there is some movement by one side or the other there is a real risk that Bonn will simply be a repeat of The Hague.

Damage limitation

An EU spokesman described the proposal from Japan and its supporters (known as the Umbrella Group) as "worrying".

On compliance we are where we left it in The Hague. We haven't made progress

EU spokesman
He said there was concern as well about how to ensure that countries complied with the protocol's provisions.

"On compliance, we are where we left it in The Hague", he said. "We haven't made progress."

BBC News Online environment correspondent Alex Kirby, who is in Bonn, says there is a growing feeling the conference may prove little more than a damage limitation exercise.

A Japanese protester in George Bush mask flashes a banner urging the government to ratify the Kyoto treaty.
Japan's support is vital for the Kyoto pact
The woman leading the UK team in Bonn, Margaret Beckett, said the bottom line for the European Union was to try to maintain some "visible momentum".

"I use the word 'momentum' deliberately. No-one wants to set a hurdle at which we fall, even after we've made some progress," she told journalists.

Phil Clapp, of the National Environmental Trust, a US campaign group, told BBC News Online: "Two things have made people think: the collapse of the last round of talks in The Hague last November, and President Bush's repudiation of the protocol.

"What they're saying now is: 'It won't matter too much if we have to relax the targets, settle perhaps for cuts a few per cent smaller than we wanted. The important thing is to get a deal.'"

The BBC's Patrick Bartlett
"It is clear developing countries are determined not to be sidelined"
Chief American delegate, Paula Dobriansky
"This is not an issue that has quick solutions"
Discussing the issues
Martin Wheale, National Institute of Economic and Social Research in London, and John Whitelegg, Prof of Liverpool University
 (Launches new window)
See also:

19 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Ministers bid to save climate treaty
15 Jul 01 | Europe
Storm clouds over climate talks
09 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan to press US on Kyoto
30 Mar 01 | Americas
Kyoto: Why did the US pull out?
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