COP6 climate talks enter uncertain final hours

Prospects for detailed agreement dashed as delegations dig in for last-minute negotiations

The likely outcome of the COP6 climate summit in The Hague remained far from clear this evening after both the EU and the USA - the two major players whose compromises will shape future implementation of the Kyoto protocol - rejected a draft agreement presented last night by summit chairman Jan Pronk.

Underlining the degree of stalemate, it was announced this evening that ministers will now aim only to reach a broad political agreement on major issues, to be fleshed out at a later date, probably early next year. The development could potentially upset the entire timetable for bringing the protocol into force.

By general consent among the few impartial observers at the conference, yesterday's compromise proposal from chairman Jan Pronk leaned heavily towards the US-led umbrella group, with only crumbs of comfort for the EU (ENDS Daily 23 November). But US chief negotiator Frank Loy today expressed "deep disappointment" with an "unacceptably imbalanced" paper.

"I can't believe they have the same paper as we do," German environment minister Jürgen Trittin retorted. "The biggest loophole is still sinks," he said, after EU officials calculated that the plan would still enable the US to achieve 35% of its emission reduction effort through carbon uptake by agricultural and forest lands rather than fossil-fuel emission reductions.

For French environment minister and chief EU negotiator Dominique Voynet, the big problem with Mr Pronk's plan is that industrialised countries would no longer have to cut emissions, as agreed in Kyoto in 1997. "These proposals would simply tolerate a 3% rise in allowable emissions," she said. "We arrived at the Kyoto targets of a 5.2% reduction only after lengthy negotiations, and we're not going to change that."

EU ministers met this afternoon to organise their response. According to sources, options discussed included restricting the use of sinks to 0.5% of each party's 1990 baseline emissions rather than 3% as suggested by Mr Pronk. Other sources say the most the EU delegation would now be prepared to accept is a formula allowing use of sinks up to a maximum of 20% of countries' reduction commitments.

Other ideas include a quantitative cap on the use of flexible mechanisms, varying according to each country's scope for domestic action to reduce emissions. The idea was first suggested earlier in the week and is thought to be aimed at winning concessions from Japan, which is still strongly backing the USA.

Another proposal would exclude the use of sinks projects in the clean development mechanism (CDM). In addition, the EU could push to increase the "penalty" rate that non-complying industrialised countries would have to apply to emission surpluses subtracted from future emission allowances from 0.5 to 2.0 percentage points, with further transgressions subject to double this rate.

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

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