- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2001

The president of the U.N. conference on climate change yesterday said he will not accept any proposal from the United States to drop the existing global-warming treaty and negotiate a new one.

Jan Pronk, environment minister of the Netherlands, who currently chairs the U.N. global-warming talks due to resume in July, said he is eager to negotiate details that would make it easier for the United States to comply with the treaty, but he views any attempt to forge a new treaty as out of order.

"We cannot start over. Kyoto is the only game in town," he told a conference of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change here, referring to the treaty clinched by former Vice President Al Gore in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 after years of negotiations.

President Bush has rejected the terms of that treaty, which would require the United States to slash emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by one-third to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2010.

The administration also opposes the treaty's exemption of developing countries from strict emissions curbs and has suggested it will propose a new approach at the negotiations in Bonn in July.

"The targets ought to be considered agreed upon," said Mr. Pronk. He also said he would reject changes in other Kyoto "principles," such as the "differentiated responsibilities" given to industrialized nations like the United States and developing countries like China and India.

"But there is still room for negotiation on details," he said, suggesting that he would lean a long way toward adopting the measures sought by the Clinton administration to ease the economic hardship the treaty would impose on the United States.

Under a compromise plan offered by Mr. Pronk this month, the United States could achieve up to 90 percent of its emissions cuts simply by relying on the carbon-absorbing powers of its forests, grasslands and farmlands. The European Union, by contrast, could achieve only 40 percent of its cuts that way.

The compromise goes much further than European negotiators were willing to go toward accommodating the United States at negotiations that ended in collapse in The Hague in December.

In a warning aimed at Bush administration officials, Mr. Pronk said that "nonparticipation by the United States would have consequences."

"It would be a political first" that would "be a blow to confidence" in such international agreements, he said.

U.S. withdrawal also would "be a blow to U.S. businesses," he said, because it would create a pretext for other countries that continue to participate in the treaty to restrict U.S. access to their markets.

Like other European officials, Mr. Pronk said that if the United States refuses to participate, other nations should go ahead and try to ratify the treaty. But he said he still is hopeful that such a rupture in relations between "family" members can be avoided.

Australia so far has been the only country to come out in support of Mr. Bush's move to drop the Kyoto treaty. Robert Hill, environment minister of Australia, told the Pew conference that rejection of the treaty would not be a disaster and alternative ways can be found to address climate change.

Canada and Japan close U.S. allies in previous negotiations have voiced no willingness to go on without the United States. At the same time, they continue to support the Kyoto treaty and want the United States to stay involved.

"Canada still believes in the process," said Emmanuel D. Tehindrazanarivelo, a senior Canadian environment official at the conference. "We are still hoping that our biggest partner will be a part of the family circle."

Mr. Pronk's compromise plan appears aimed at holding the allegiance of Canada and Australia, among others, by enabling both countries to achieve all their required emissions cuts under the treaty by relying on carbon-absorbing "sinks" like forests.

Russia, Iceland, Finland, Norway and other heavily forested countries also would fare well under the proposal.

"We are discussing a very flexible program," said Mr. Pronk. "Cost-effectiveness is accepted as a leading principle by all parties provided the acceptance of reasonable targets and timetables."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide