Governments in further reverse over climate

Major industrialised states attempt to salvage a deal from the ruins of the Hague

Two days of "official but informal" climate talks between industrialised countries appear to have left the EU and the "Umbrella" group even further apart than before. The talks were the first follow-up to last month's dramatic collapse of high-level negotiations in the Hague (ENDS Daily 27 November) and were supposed to launch a resumption of ministerial talks in Oslo next week. This event now looks doubtful.

Hosted by the Canadian government, the talks involved lead negotiators only from the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Japan (all Umbrella group members) and EU members France, Germany, Sweden and the UK, plus the European Commission.

Initial reports from Ottawa suggested that a renewed impetus had been generated for agreeing operational rules for the Kyoto climate protocol. Canadian environment minister David Anderson said yesterday: "These discussions have clearly demonstrated that all countries recognise the importance of the task before us, and we share a common desire to clearly define rules so that we can meet our Kyoto targets."

The European Commission also gave a guardedly positive report today, saying that although "much remains to be done, progress was made in clarifying issues and resolving technical differences among parties". A UK government spokesperson took a similar line, telling ENDS Daily today that the talks "were conducted in good spirit and progress was made, including resolving a number of technical issues and clarifying the key outstanding differences. Both sides want to continue to work together. Discussions will continue."

But America's chief negotiator Frank Loy blew these hopeful messages out of the water in a statement released this evening. "We went to Ottawa with some flexibility to narrow our differences....After receiving a report from our experts, I am disappointed. Not only were pending issues not resolved, but old issues were brought back to the table. In this respect, we are not as close to an agreement today as we were in the Hague. We don't believe that the Ottawa talks alone provide a sufficient basis for a ministerial meeting."

Mr Loy concluded with a clear warning to the EU that it would have to make further concessions to US demands for greater flexibility in the Kyoto protocol rules. "Further progress depends on a reasoned and coordinated position from the European Union," he said.

Follow Up:
UN framework convention on climate change, tel: +49 228 815 1000; European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; US State Department, tel: +1 202 647 6575.

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