- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

BUENOS AIRES — Long nights of backroom wrangling and a last-minute tangle produced a deal Saturday that opens a small door to international talks about what comes “beyond Kyoto” as the world grapples with the threat of global warming.

Bush administration envoys to a United Nations conference, allied with some developing countries, including oil producers, blocked any more ambitious effort to cap fossil-fuel emissions after reductions mandated by the Kyoto Protocol — the climate pact rejected by President Bush — expire in 2012.

The resulting weekend agreement was not a “foothold,” said veteran climate negotiator Michael Zammit Cutajar, a Maltese diplomat. “It’s a finger-hold — like hanging on by your nails.”

What the annual climate conference approved was a “seminar” in May, as proposed by the European Union, but one at which governments can only informally raise a range of issues, including next steps on control of carbon dioxide and other emissions blamed for warming.

“The only thing we want to discuss is future options, and we will,” said Pieter van Geel, the Dutch environment secretary and a key EU negotiator.

For their part, the Americans avoided any commitment to formally negotiate mandatory reductions in emissions, the idea President Bush rejected in 2001 when he renounced Kyoto. Mr. Bush said the Kyoto Protocol would harm the U.S. economy and complained that China, India and other poorer but industrializing nations were exempt from the 1997 pact’s short-term goals.

Even this U.S.-European compromise, brought to the open floor for routine adoption at the end of the two-week conference, was stalled for hours Saturday morning by India, China and others — as the sun rose over Buenos Aires and convention-hall workers began dismantling temporary office walls.

“Developing countries and the U.S. didn’t want to see a wider opening for new commitments,” said Chinese delegate Gao Feng. With Argentina’s mediation, new language was inserted during discussions saying the seminar “does not open any negotiation leading to new commitments.”

If the Europeans or others at the seminar next year begin talking about a future treaty framework, U.S. diplomats likely will ignore them. “We think it’s premature,” Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of state and the U.S. delegation head, said last week.

Carbon dioxide, a byproduct of automobile engines, power plants and other fossil fuel-burning industries, traps heat that otherwise would escape from the atmosphere. A broad scientific consensus, endorsed by a U.N.-sponsored network of climatologists, holds that most of the past century’s global temperature rise — 1 degree Fahrenheit — probably was caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The latest figures, for 2000, show that the United States accounted for 21 percent of the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and the handful of other problem gases, compared with 14 percent for the 25-nation European Union. On a per-capita basis, Europeans produce half the amount of greenhouse gases Americans do.

The Kyoto Protocol, effective Feb. 16, established a schedule of emissions for 30 industrial countries that ratified it. By 2012 the European Union, for example, must cut emissions by 8 percent below 1990 levels, and Japan and Canada by 6 percent.

The treaty’s cutbacks are modest, compared with the problem. In a report issued here early this month, climatologists from the British government’s Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research projected that global temperatures most likely would rise by 6 degrees Fahrenheit by the late 21st century or earlier, if carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere double — a realistic scenario.

Computer models show that such swift temperature rises would shift climate zones, produce more extreme weather events, and raise sea levels by the melting of ice on land and thermal expansion of oceans. Effects already are noticeable in the Arctic and elsewhere, scientists report.

The U.S. delegation sought to put the focus at the Buenos Aires meeting not on emissions reductions but on long-range U.S. programs to develop cleaner-burning energy technologies.

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