USA accepts Kyoto protocol limits on sinks

Americans offer early concession over forestry to defuse threatened row with EU

As the world climate summit continues in The Hague, the USA has made an early concession over the use of carbon sinks in meeting greenhouse gas targets. Differences over the issue between the US-led Umbrella group and the EU have been expected to dominate political discussions during later stages of the sixth conference of parties (COP6) to the 1992 UN climate convention.

During technical working group sessions now underway, the US delegation yesterday proposed that credits for forestry-management related sinks should be "phased-in" during the first commitment period of the Kyoto protocol, which runs from 1990 to 2008-12. Previously, the USA has opposed any restrictions on counting carbon absorption by sinks, while the EU opposes their inclusion during the first commitment period altogether.

"We would be prepared to accept a phase-in that would limit the amount of credits that industrialised countries would receive for sink activities during the first budget period," US delegation chief David Sandalow told journalists yesterday evening. The initiative has been supported by fellow Umbrella group members Canada and Japan.

Carbon sink accounting is to be governed under articles 3.3 and 3.4 of the protocol, which environmentalists have called the "biggest loophole" in the text. If sinks can be counted then industrialised countries should be able to meet their commitments while reducing emissions by less than would otherwise be required.

Though a number of sink activities are included under the articles, the US plan relates only to management of existing forests, excluding afforestation, deforestation and reforestation. Below a yet-to-be-defined carbon absorption threshold, all absorption would be counted. Above it, only a percentage of calculated emission credits could be used to offset reduction targets. If the general principle is accepted then the threshold's level would be negotiated during the ministerial segment of the summit next week.

No EU reactions to the US plan have yet emerged, but environment commissioner Margot Wallström said last week that sinks was one issue that the EU was least likely to compromise on (ENDS Daily 7 November).

Follow Up:
US delegation COP6, including a transcript of Mr Sandalow's press conference. See also an article criticising the US proposal in the daily NGO bulletin Eco.

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