EU states in team talk before climate summit

Environment Council establishes tactics for COP6 negotiations to flesh out details of Kyoto protocol

Environment ministers met in Brussels today for their final round of talks on climate change before assembling in The Hague later this month to hammer out with other world governments the practical details of implementing the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse gas emission reductions. The protocol was signed in 1997 and obliges industrialised countries to cut their emissions 5.2% from 1990 levels by the period 2008-12.

In the formal part of today's meeting ministers reiterated the EU's official position on some of the key issues that will surface in The Hague. These were mainly outlined at a council meeting in June (ENDS Daily 22 June).

The EU's position is that: industrialised countries should meet at least half of their reduction commitments through domestic action; the clean development mechanism should in its early stages be based on a positive list of clean technologies excluding nuclear power; strong economic sanctions should apply to countries not in compliance with the protocol; the use of carbon sinks to soak up emissions should be deferred for at least a decade; developing countries should not be forced to contemplate binding cuts until a later stage.

But the real reason for today's meeting was to coordinate joint tactics once negotiations begin and EU delegates are faced with compromise proposals on each of the issues. French environment minister Dominique Voynet said the purpose was to "look at positions we can't accept, and which are closest to EU positions."

Though officials are reluctant to show their bargaining hand, a press conference at the end of the meeting revealed the EU is likely to take a hard line on the role of sinks in meeting Kyoto targets. "The most sensitive issue is the credibility of protocol... We won't allow sinks [to be used] in such a way that they create a big loophole," environment commissioner Margot Wallström said. A strong compliance system is also one issue the EU will be reluctant to compromise on: "It's an extremely sensitive issue and one of the bottom lines for us," Ms Wallström said.

Much of the opposition in The Hague will come from the "umbrella group" of countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia, which have large potential for utilising sinks. The EU claimed the group had been obstructive during preliminary talks in September to prepare for COP6 (ENDS Daily 19 September). Recognising the leading role the USA will play in the talks, the ministers today sent a letter addressed to whoever wins today's presidential elections calling for a "major investment of effort" into the Kyoto process.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111. The official conclusions of today's meeting will be posted here from tomorrow.

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