- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2001

BONN — Delegates at a U.N. meeting here yesterday were perched precariously on the brink of a deal that would save the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 treaty that aims to combat global warming.

"It is my political conviction that it is possible to reach an agreement," said Jan Pronk, the Netherlands' environment minister and chairman of the talks.

Mr. Pronk had scheduled a meeting in the early morning hours to finalize a deal.

During three days of intensive negotiations in the former West German capital, diplomats were trying to strike a deal on a framework for how the 1997 agreement, which was designed to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, should be implemented.

Though a deal in Bonn most likely would water down the Kyoto pact, officials said, nothing was to be gained by waiting.

"Any form of postponement will not lead to better results," said German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin.

The Kyoto treaty had been in doubt since President Bush rejected the pact in May.

The agreement aims to reduce worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2 percent from 1990 levels.

Even with the late-hour negotiations, the future of the Kyoto Protocol remains uncertain. Japan, concerned about breaking with its American ally, has not said whether it will sign the agreement.

This decision most likely will come at an October meeting in Morocco, Japanese officials have said.

At the same time, Japanese negotiators have not been shy about leveraging the uncertainty over their country's participation to win crucial concessions that will ease the economic pain of adhering to the strict environmental standards of the Kyoto treaty.

With the United States — the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases — out of the picture, Japan's signature is vital to the treaty's future. It can go into effect only if 55 countries representing 55 percent of worldwide emissions ratify the treaty — a number that can be reached only with the participation of Japan, the world's second-biggest economy.

Environmental groups, frustrated with the watering down of the treaty, nevertheless are supporting the measure negotiated in Bonn as the last best chance to rescue the Kyoto agreement.

"The deal [would cover] everything," said David Doniger, an official with the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council. "This is a solid structure."

On Saturday, Mr. Pronk issued a new negotiating document that made major concessions to Japan and the other fence-sitters, Canada and Australia.

The new document significantly boosted the amount of greenhouse gases that the three countries would be able to emit under Kyoto by giving them credit for forest "sinks" that soak up carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.

But Mr. Pronk left a midnight negotiating session still unable to nail down an agreement on how the treaty will treat backsliders that emit more than their prescribed share of greenhouse gases. Japan has refused to endorse a penalty system, while the 15-nation European Union has supported it.

Yesterday, events at the Group of Eight summit of industrialized nations in Genoa, Italy, threw the talks in Bonn slightly off balance.

Despite the U.S. opposition to the Kyoto treaty, the G-8 leaders reaffirmed that they are "committed to working intensively together to meet our common objective" of reducing emissions.

At the same time, foreign leaders in Genoa said that Mr. Bush had promised the United States would put forth a new plan to fight global warming by the October meeting in Morocco, suggesting a deal this week in Bonn might not be necessary.

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