Euro ministers get tough on Kyoto

European Union member countries have agreed to demand tough rules for compliance with the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, ahead of talks in The Hague.


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Environment ministers from the 15 EU countries met on 7 November to finalise a united negotiating position before the talks, which are viewed as critical to the Kyoto agreement. French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet told a news conference after the meeting: “We won’t give our agreement to any scenario that puts into doubt the ecological importance of the protocol.”

Under the Kyoto framework of 1997, the industrialised nations pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5% on average compared to 1990 levels, with a deadline of 2008 to 2012. So far, no major industrial country has yet ratified the agreement.

The talks in The Hague, which start on 13 November and will last two weeks, are intended to decide a framework for ensuring this takes place. Attendees will include environment ministers and representatives from countries around the world.

The EU environment ministers have established the fundamental negotiating points for the meeting, and at what other countries might be seeking. Central to the EU’s position is a requirement for countries to achieve the majority of emissions cuts through domestic action rather than by trading emission credits or other ‘flexible mechanisms’. The ministers will also demand firm sanctions against countries which miss their targets and limitations on the practice of counting forests as carbon sinks to help meet targets.

These requirements appear to be targeted primarily at the US, which is a leading advocate in a group of countries that want to retain the use of both carbon sinks and flexible mechanisms. Ms Voynet said that she had written to the White House urging the US – which produces nearly a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases – to take climate change issues seriously. This action has followed a recent scientific report on climate change, commissioned by the EU, which has painted a stark picture of its effects on Europe.

However, trouble looms for the meeting in the shape of the European employers’ federation, which has urged governments not to ratify the Kyoto agreement before achieving clarification on how it will be implemented.

Unice, a grouping of European industry federations, said governments needed to firm up parts of the protocol. “Before undertaking to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the European Union must get an agreement with the other parties about the modalities to adopt for an effective implementation of the protocol,” Unice Secretary General Dirk Hudig said in a statement.

Unice said mechanisms such as emissions trading would have to be properly defined as an “absolute precondition” before countries allowed themselves to be bound by the protocol.

The EC position is also certain to come into contact with that of Australia (see story in ‘World’ section).

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