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U.S. urged to aid global warming pact

Published Sep. 10, 2005

On Day 1 of an international conference on climate change, the United States and Japan came under heavy pressure Monday to help salvage the Kyoto global warming treaty, which appears close to collapse after a decade of negotiation.

Delegates from 180 countries opened a two-week meeting in this Rhine river town, most of them determined to rescue the treaty, which the United States renounced four months ago. Supporters call it the world's best hope for slowing the destructive impact of temperatures that are rising faster than at any time in history.

As the conference began, the 15 leaders of European Union nations issued a joint declaration promising to fulfill their treaty commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions _ such as carbon dioxide, methane and other heat-trapping pollutants _ below 1990 levels. They urged the world's other industrial powers, notably the United States and Japan, to join them in pledging serious measures to fight climate change.

"We cannot allow the country with the biggest emissions of greenhouse gases to escape responsibility for protecting the global climate," said Jurgen Trittin, Germany's environment minister and a prominent member of the Green Party, referring to the United States.

Former President Bill Clinton supported the protocol. But to the outrage of many Europeans, President Bush pulled away from it shortly after entering office, saying it was based on uncertain science, would harm U.S. economic interests and required insufficient action from developing countries such as China and India.

U.S. delegates at the conference had no immediate response to the criticism, nor did the United States propose any new initiatives to return to the agreement.

Even though Japan says it wants to carry out the treaty that bears the name of its ancient capital, the government of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi says it would make sense only if the United States, as the world's biggest polluter, does so as well.

The discussions here are supposed to resolve several technical issues that were left dangling when a previous conference, held in the Netherlands last November, broke up in disarray after the United States and the EU failed to reach a compromise. Their dispute centered on the degree to which the United States would be allowed to soften any economic sacrifice by trading or purchasing "pollution credits" from other countries.

The delegates will seek to determine how to judge whether countries are meeting their quotas of greenhouse gas reductions and what kind of fines they should be assessed if they fail to do so. They will also try to determine to what extent forests, swamplands and other "carbon sinks," which absorb carbon dioxide, should be factored into the equation.

The fate of the conference may be determined at another meeting beginning Friday in Genoa, Italy, where Bush and other leaders from the Group of Eight industrial countries will hold their annual review of the global economy.

There European leaders plan to press Bush and Koizumi to adopt a more cooperative approach in the fight against global warming, hoping that a shift in their policies could bring success to the Bonn negotiations.

U.S. delegation chief Paula Dobriansky has said that the administration will not put any new initiatives on the table.

The leaders of Britain, France and Germany have promised to do their utmost to convince Bush that his position threatens not just the Kyoto treaty but the future health of the Atlantic alliance.

Several delegates said they were angry and disappointed that the Bush administration had failed to live up to its promises of coming up with alternative ideas to the treaty that the U.S. president has described as "fatally flawed." The conference chairman, Jan Pronk of the Netherlands, said he originally planned to hold the meeting in May but agreed to a two-month delay at the request of Secretary of State Colin Powell so that the United States could bring some new ideas to the table.

According to the Washington Post, a Cabinet-level review of the Kyoto treaty held numerous policy planning sessions but could not agree to bring any new initiatives to Bonn.

European governments also are furious that Bush has been lobbying Japan, Australia and Canada to abandon the treaty and is reneging on a promise to contribute $250-million to a special technology fund to help developing countries cope with global warming.

"The Bush administration is guilty of three broken promises," said Philip Clapp, president of the U.S. National Environment Trust. "The president promises to bring a new policy to Bonn, to refrain from influencing other countries and to help the Third World. But he is backing away on every count."

Ian Bowles, a former White House adviser on climate change for Clinton who stayed on to help the Bush administration formulate its policy, says Washington may be underestimating how its global warming policy may be damaging relations with European allies.

"It is fundamentally misleading for the administration to say that other countries do not want to ratify this treaty," said Bowles, who left the White House in March after Bush declared his rejection of the Kyoto document. "The purpose of the meetings in The Hague and in Bonn was to work out the terms for carrying out the treaty, so that governments could then ratify it. But the Bush White House is using its own blocking tactics as a false pretext to justify a position that is criticized by the rest of the world."