Climate Talks Deadlocked,
Race to Find Compromise

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - With
the clock ticking for an
international agreement to
slow global warming, the
world"s richest nations
remained sharply divided on
Friday over how best to cut
gases seen drastically
changing the world"s climate.
"It looks on a knife edge," said Michael
Grubb, Professor of Climate Change and
Energy Policy at London"s Imperial
College, at a key U.N.-sponsored meeting
in The Hague on climate change. The
two-week talks reach their mid-point this
weekend with experts hoping the arrival
of ministers can give a political push to
halting efforts to tackle the threat of a
warmer Earth. "There"s still a long way to
go on the core issue of cutting back
greenhouse gas emissions at home,"
Grubb said of sharp policy differences
between the United States and European
Union. "That has been an issue for the
three years since Kyoto and with one
week to go in the final conference it"s
still not settled. It"ll probably have to be
dealt with by the ministers in the final
hours." Negotiators have been trying all
week to strike a deal on how to
implement a U.N. pact signed in Kyoto,
Japan in 1997 to cut emissions of gases
believed to cause global warming, but
Europe and the United States remained at
loggerheads over the basic approach.
Scientists say that without cuts in
emissions of gases like carbon dioxide
from burning oil and coal there could be
unprecedented climate change with
possibly devastating effects. U.N. climate
reports issued in the 1990s left no doubt
that global warming carries a real threat
of increased disease, crop failures and
rises in sea levels that need urgent
attention. The 15-nation EU wants
countries to meet most of their emissions
targets, set at Kyoto, by cutting pollution
from their industrial, energy and transport
sectors. The U.S. and its allies, including
Japan, Australia, Canada and New
Zealand, favor unlimited use of so-called
"flexibility mechanisms" to meet their
include buying the right to pollute --
emissions credits -- from other countries
that can meet their targets. This
ideological rift erupted on Thursday when
the EU rejected a U.S.-backed plan to
designate its own forests and farmland as
"sinks" to soak up carbon dioxide (CO2),
the principal global warming gas, and
enable Washington to meet its own
targets for cuts in emissions. The EU said
the plan was a free gift that did not
"ensure the environmental integrity of the
Kyoto Protocol." With little progress
emerging, French President Jacques Chirac
announced in Paris he would attend the
Hague talks on Monday to add his weight
to the push for a workable deal. Earlier
this month, Chirac urged the Hague
meeting in advance to "take its
responsibility" in battling climate change.
French Environment Minister Dominique
Voynet noted late on Thursday that there
was some movement from the U.S. and
Japan toward a possible compromise.
Envoys had just hours left on Friday to
cut through the technical details and
reveal just where that compromise may
lie. Environmentalists hope an accord can
start to reverse pollution trends which
scientists warn could have disastrous
consequences for mankind and wildlife.
Negotiators still have to tackle the
contentious issue of whether richer
countries should be allowed to pay poorer
ones to use their forests as CO2 "sinks."
Many senior U.S. Senators have vowed to
kill any greenhouse gas plan they believe
would hurt the economy. BRITAIN TO
UNVEIL ACTION PLAN Britain, claiming a
lead position among the industrialized
nations to turn its Kyoto pledges into
actions, was due to unveil its strategy to
combat global warming as Environment
Minister Michael Meacher headed for the
Hague talks. "We are setting out a plan
to reduce (UK) greenhouse gas emissions
by 23 percent below 1990 levels, that is
more than 10 percent beyond our Kyoto
targets," Meacher told BBC radio. Charles
Secrett, director of the environmentalist
group Friends of the Earth, welcomed the
British intervention: "The publication of
the government"s climate strategy will
hopefully send a powerful message to the
climate negotiations at The Hague and
provide a blueprint for other nations to
follow," he said. Those who hoped the
Hague talks could rekindle the flagging
nuclear industry -- which does not
produce CO2 -- were dealt a blow by
European Environment Commissioner
Margot Wallstrom who dismissed nuclear
power as a non-viable solution. "We have
to look at sustainable solutions, and if we
create a huge waste problem, that is not
sustainable," she said, adding it was too
costly for poor nations.