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Netherlands: Anger at US Boils Over at Climate Talks

by Robin PomeroyReuters
November 22nd, 2000

THE HAGUE -- The world's top polluters, the United States and the European Union, clung to opposing positions at U.N. climate talks on Wednesday as efforts to agree ways to fight global warming appeared stuck in low gear.

Scuffles broke out as over 20 British protesters burst into a room where a group of ministers were negotiating and shouted slogans demanding that the United States, the world's biggest producer of heat-trapping gases, do more to stop climate change.

Guards hustled most protesters out but some were allowed to register their protest at what they called signs that a pro-U.S. sellout was in the works at the talks in the Hague.

The ministers moved their talks to another room, but delegates said that with less than three days to go before a Friday night deadline for a deal, the protest had put back the work of that group of negotiators by hours.

"Compromise built on top of compromise means you get to a point where you've got to say 'stop'," said one of the activists from a group called Corporate Watch based in Oxford.

Elsewhere in the Hague, police arrested about 100 protesters planning to march on a number of embassies to demonstrate in support of demands for tougher action on global warming.

Government ministers began bargaining behind closed doors on Tuesday but there was little early sign of any willingness to start the political horse-trading experts say must happen if the 180 participating nations are to agree practical measures.


The United States, cheered on by resource-rich Australia and Canada, wants a big role for markets in efforts to clean up the planet under the terms of a 1997 pact reached in Kyoto, Japan, that set targets for cuts in emissions of "greenhouse gases."

The EU, backed by most poor counties, says every developed nation must make substantial cuts in emissions at home, and not rely entirely on deals that would, in effect, allow rich countries to pay other nations to make their cuts for them.

The EU particularly dislikes a U.S. plan to allow developed nations to count carbon dioxide soaked up by forests, so-called carbon "sinks," against emissions targets set in Kyoto.

"In the perspective of what our expectations were when we agreed in Rio...what can be achieved here will be modest, even disappointing," said activist Maurice Strong, who chaired the U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 that helped launch the Kyoto process.

French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet said the United States was looking increasingly isolated in its push for countries to claim their own forests' natural absorption of carbon dioxide as credits against emissions targets.

The developing country bloc G77, as well as Russia and eastern European countries, all said they opposed it in a ministerial meeting late on Tuesday.


"A large majority of the parties supports the EU on the question of sinks," she told a news briefing.

Voynet said she thought the issue divided a so-called umbrella group of countries, including Japan, Canada, Australia New Zealand and Norway which negotiate alongside Washington.

Bill Hare of Greenpeace International said the idea now only had the support of the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia.

"The proposal would destroy the Kyoto Protocol's environmental effectiveness. The time has come for them to take it off the table."

The head of the U.S. delegation, Frank Loy, told Reuters the proposal was still on the table. When asked if there was any chance of a U.S. concession on the issue, he said: "I think we have made one, and we haven't heard a response yet."

A delegate from an umbrella group country said the issue was so sensitive it was likely to be pushed back until after the Hague talks. Publicly, all delegations are saying they want all the major political decisions taken by Friday's deadline.

Scientists say gases like carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels such as oil are warming the planet, disrupting the climate and damaging the environment.

However, many business leaders and U.S. oil companies fear the costs of stopping the earth from heating up could have equally damaging effects on economic growth and jobs.

The U.S. Sierra Club environmental group attacked Washington's position at the talks, saying it was clearly trying to water down the Kyoto accord. "America is shirking its responsibilities," club official Sanjay Ranchod said.

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