As the two-week long Sixth Session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Convention Conference of the Parties (COP6) in The Hague drew to a close, even conference president Jan Pronk said the chances of a successful outcome were no higher than 50-50. Delegates from 185 countries worked through the night of 23-24 November attempting to broker an international deal on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Pronk’s main challenge has been to find a compromise between the European Union and the United States on carbon ‘sinks’ inclusion in tackling global warming, transferring clean energy technologies to poor nations and the enforcement of any deal. “In my view it is balanced. There is something in it for all groups,” Pronk, the Dutch Environment Minister, said of his proposal for compromise between EU and US positions. “Pain will shared by all groups but also benefits are evenly shared among all groups”, he said, adding that he was willing to extend discussions by one day to 25 November in order to clinch an agreement.

The EU has issued thinly-veiled attacks on US proposals to cut emissions with France’s President Chirac calling on the US to face up to its responsibilities (see related story in ‘North America’ section of this week’s bulletin), and regards its own proposals as the only way to reverse climate change. EU ministers had agreed to take a tough stance on US proposals prior to COP6 (see related story). EU negotiators do not agree with US calls for carbon ‘sinks’ to count towards emissions targets. “A large majority of the parties supports the EU on the question of sinks,” France’s Environment Minister Dominique Voynet said at the conference. However, France’s President Chirac was the one vocal possible EU supporter of the ‘sinks’ mechanism. “If it were to be (scientifically) confirmed that reforestation, the fight against desertification and the fight against global warming can be mutually reinforcing, then we would be wrong to rule out this course,” he said.

The EU wants nations required under the Kyoto Protocol to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to make at least half of them at home, thus limiting the use of emissions trading or other flexible mechanisms, which the US wants to be unlimited.

The official EU position has also been to exclude any increase in nuclear power to offset GHG emissions, which the US also wants to see. The EU’s policy is supported by the developing country bloc G77, as well as Russia and Eastern European countries. Some countries, including EU member Finland, are already considering expanded nuclear capacity (see following story).

Under the compromise plan proposed by Pronk, and under discussion when edie was published, carbon ‘sinks’ could count towards emissions targets, but not to the extent that the US wishes to see. However increased nuclear capacity in developing nations would be excluded as a way of attracting exemptions from emissions cuts at home. Pronk also proposed $1 billion in aid to developing nations to help adapt to the effects of climate change and install clean energy technology. “We have reached the limits of our positions…If it is not done by Saturday in this setting I do not know what other alternative will be possible,” Pronk warned.

However, the compromise plan received no comment from the US delegation and was called “disappointing and unacceptable” by Voynet. Environmentalists slammed the plan. “The Pronk paper contains provisions which would substantially undermine the Kyoto Protocol and is therefore unacceptable,” Greenpeace said, although it welcomed the exclusion of nuclear power.

Small island nations, which literally have more to lose from global warming, have been even more strident than the EU in their calls for action. “We fear for our very existence,” Redley Killion, Vice-President of the Federated States of Micronesia said. “We are watching significant portions of our coastal areas erode, watching salt water intrusion destroy our staple crops and wrestling with lengthy drought and outbreaks of new waterborne disease.”

“Eighty percent of our land mass is at less than one metre (three feet) elevation. With a one metre rise (in sea levels) there would be no Maldives,” said Maldives delegate Siwad Saeed.

Please check next week’s edie news to see if the Kyoto Protocol and Convention will be on course to be ratified and implemented by April 2002. It will not take effect until it is ratified by 55% of the nations emitting at least 55% of the world’s greenhouse gases. To have any hope of this, a US and EU deal will need to be brokered by the end of COP6.

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