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Australia/Japan: EU Allies Back Away from Kyoto Climate Protocol

Environment News Service
July 9th, 2001

TOKYO, Japan -- A high level delegation from the European Union has failed to win unequivocal Japanese and Australian support for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol without U.S. involvement.

From July 16 to 27 in Bonn, Germany, some 180 countries will attempt to finalize rules for implementing the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to limit the emission by industrialized nations of six greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

President George W. Bush announced in March that the United States will not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. This has led to a crisis in the international efforts to finalize the agreement.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told the European leaders today that Japan "would have problems reaching a deal in Bonn without U.S. involvement."

The European Union High Level Mission led by EU chief climate change negotiator, Belgian Sustainable Development Minister, Olivier Deleuze, and Environment Commissioner, Margot Wallstrom, is gathering support for ratification of the 1997 Kyoto agreement.

A spokesperson for Wallstrom said the situation is now "critical."

On a positive note, the Commission said Japan reiterated its intention to ratify the protocol by 2002, though officials did not say whether this was conditional on U.S. involvement.

After meeting with the European leaders last week in Sydney, the Australian cabinet decided to participate in climate talks in Bonn, but will not commit to ratifying the global warming agreement without the United States.

At their meeting Friday with Australian Environment Minister Senator Robert Hill, the EU leaders repeated the European commitment to ratify the Kyoto Protocol by the year 2002, if necessary without the United States. But Hill said Australia will not do so.

Under the Kyoto agreement, Australia would not have to cut emissions below 1990 levels, but could increase them only by eight percent. Japan would have to cut its emissions six percent below 1990 levels.

In view of the United States' abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol in March, the Australian government will review its position on the treaty, but said Monday the deal should not be ratified without the United States. The cabinet review will not be completed in time for the Bonn talks.

Last week, the chairman of the Bonn talks, Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk said he could accept a two-year postponement in the start of the period for implementing the emissions cuts.

The protocol sets a five year time period, from 2008 to 2012, for achieving the reduction, but Pronk told parliament that an "option" would be to delay the start by two years, to 2010.

The European Union is gathering support for ratification of the Kyoto agreement by the 38 countries governed by the agreement immediately after the Bonn meeting, while giving the United States the option to ratify at a later date.

In Australia, the EU delegation underlined that the Kyoto Protocol represents the result of a 10 year international effort to lay the foundation for an international regime to combat climate change.

Belgian Sustainable Development Minister Olivier Deleuze is taking the lead in climate talks. "We feel that we are in a situation of crucial urgency. We cannot accept that Parties [to the UN climate change treaty] are gaining time by putting into question the merits of the Kyoto Protocol," Deleuze said.

"This is a matter of political will. We have heard that people in Australia do worry about climate change and want action. We cannot wait and see," said Wallstrom.

The EU leaders warned that any effort to replace the Kyoto Protocol would create serious legal and political problems.

The EU representatives also met Laurie Brereton, member of the Australian shadow cabinet, the Labor Party opposition to the ruling Liberals. Brereton indicated support for an eventual ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.

The EU Mission had a constructive meeting with Australian NGO's on the question on how to seek actions against climate change, the Belgian Presidency said.

In a June 24 editorial in the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, Margot Wallstrom of Sweden the European Environment Commissioner wrote, "Let's always remind ourselves: There is one partner with whom we cannot negotiate - the climate itself."

"The overwhelming weight of scientific opinion confirms that global warming is a major problem. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently concluded that its impact is likely to be greater than previously feared," Wallstrom wrote, "Some uncertainties remain about exactly how the process is working, but we have more than enough evidence to convince us that swift action is needed."

The entry into force of the Protocol is linked to two conditions - the ratification by 55 States and the coverage of at least 55 percent of carbon dioxide emissions of the industrialized countries in 1990. Since the United States emits roughly 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, most of the other industrialized countries covered by the protocol would have to ratify before it could enter into force.

By May 9, 34 countries had ratified the Protocol, including only one country whose emissions are governed by the agreement.

The Kyoto Protocol aims to realize the objective of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, "the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the dominant greenhouse gas for industrialized countries, accounting for 85 percent of emissions in 1996. Fossil fuel combustion accounts for more than 90 percent of all CO2 emission.

The other greenhouse gases are methane (CH4, 10.5 percent), and nitrous oxide (N2O, 6.5 percent). HFCs, PFCs and SF6 account for a small share (about two percent) of total emissions in 1996 but have risen sharply over the 1990-1996 period.

Because the six months rotating Presidency of the European Union passed from Sweden to Belgium on July 1, Belgian Deleuze will chair the European Union delegation at the upcoming climate negotiations. He will fill that role in Bonn at the continuation of the 6th Conference of the Parties (COP 6) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and again at the 7th Conference of Parties (COP 7) in Marrakech, Morocco in November.

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