Scant progress at global climate meeting

US and Japan stalling blamed for lack of progress in Bonn, EU criticised over its proposal

An inter-governmental meeting to negotiate a global climate change protocol ended in Bonn this evening with little real negotiating having taken place. A draft protocol emerged, but observers say it is riddled with loopholes and alternative text proposals and has "no direction".

Parties to the UN climate change convention agreed in 1995 to draw up a protocol under which developed countries would commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions after 2000. This is due to be adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in December.

But with little time remaining, governments and (NGOs) are becoming increasingly worried. Environmental groups observing this week's discussions said they feared that governments will adopt only very tentative gas reduction targets in Kyoto, or even not adopt the protocol at all.

The EU is the only major economic bloc to have tabled specific targets for a protocol. This week, the USA, Japan and Australia renewed their criticism of the EU position (ENDS Daily 25 July). Japan circulated a statement describing the EU's proposal to differentiate member states' obligations (burden sharing) as lacking transparency and difficult to enforce.

Japan then had to face rumours over proposals it is said to have presented to several governments in bilateral talks, which would allow it to increase greenhouse gas emissions (ENDS Daily 4 August). Observers say Japan may now reveal its hand at a ministerial meeting on climate change it is expected to host next month. Environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature today expressed "dismay" at Japan's failure to propose targets and questioned its credibility to host the Kyoto meeting.

The USA is also holding fire on revealing its hand, amid fierce lobbying from national interest groups. It too is expected to hold a ministerial meeting, probably in October, when it may go further. In Bonn, the US continued to argue that richer developing countries as well as developed countries should make some commitment to reduce greenhouse gases.

In the USA, meanwhile, President Clinton confronted sceptical industry lobbies. In a meeting on Monday with ten Fortune 500 companies from the energy, finance and insurance industries, Mr Clinton said he believed that there should be "realistic but binding limits to emissions of greenhouse gases".

Industries in favour of strong action on climate change continued to build alliances in Bonn. The European and US Business Councils for Sustainable Energy and the International Cogeneration Alliance issued a joint statement on Tuesday calling on governments to set a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2005.

Greenpeace International today described "the emerging strength of the clean energy industry" as "one of the few hopeful signs at this meeting". It warned that an "enormous amount of work remains" to be done before Kyoto, putting the principal blame for lack of progress on the USA, which it says has been "paralysed" by its fossil fuel industry.

Follow Up:
Contacts: UN climate change secretariat, tel: +49 228 815 1000.

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