Initial high hopes fade in The Hague

First week of COP6 talks delivers little consensus as differences between EU and USA remain

International climate change negotiations taking place in The Hague have reached their mid-way point with initial optimism showing signs of waning. The sixth conference of parties (COP6) to the 1992 UN climate convention are aimed at agreeing on the detailed implementation of the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Opening the meeting on Monday, COP6 chairman Jan Pronk, the Dutch environment minister, set today as a deadline for resolving all "technical" matters before ministers arrive for the "political" segment of talks next week. The deadline has been missed: though talks have at least started this week on most major points at issue no solid consensus has emerged on any of them.

One NGO participant pointed the finger firmly at the oil-producing countries of Opec, led by Saudi Arabia. "Lots of issues are still being sabotaged by the Saudis," said Rob Bradley of Climate Network Europe. "They're really holding up progress."

But Opec hostility to the Kyoto protocol is almost a given, and most eyes are focused on the political battles being waged between the EU and Umbrella group industrialised countries led by the USA.

The USA took an early public relations lead at the beginning of the week, formally proposing to allow some limitation of emission credits for forestry management "sink" practices (ENDS Daily 15 November). After initial positive signals, the EU yesterday condemned the plan and reiterated its commitment to excluding sinks projects from the protocol's first commitment period.

"The proposal does not ensure the environmental integrity of the protocol and it does not sufficiently address the concerns of the EU," the European Commission said in a statement last night. It said the idea had "no scientific basis" and "does not solve remaining problems for the future."

Another issue dividing the EU and Umbrella group states is whether and how to limit use of the protocol's "flexible mechanisms". One observer said "no particularly constructive discussion" had yet taken place on the EU's bid to require countries to make at least half of any committed emission cuts at home. Meanwhile, the USA remains adamant that there should be no such constraint. The conference is also far from reaching agreement on detailed rules for the mechanisms.

One brighter note has been progress to agree a compliance scheme to ensure countries meet their targets and punish them if they don't. The conference is moving toward a consensus that binding sanctions should apply, though the USA still opposes calls by the EU, the G77 group of developing countries and China that these should include financial penalties. Japan, and especially Australia, continue to oppose sanctions of any kind.

ENDS Daily will report direct from The Hague every day next week as the talks approach their climax.

Follow Up:
COP6 official website. See also ENDS Daily's COP6 links.

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