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Germany: Officials See Bonn Conference As Success Despite Compromises

  • Roland Eggleston

Germany has welcomed this week's accord at the climate conference in Bonn as an important success, despite disappointment that major compromises had to be made to satisfy Russia, Japan, and other countries. German officials give credit mostly to negotiators from the European Union, who were determined that the conference would not fail as have other recent meetings on climate change. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston reports from Munich.

Munich, 24 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Most German commentators agree that the European Union deserves the most credit for the success of the difficult negotiations in Bonn. German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin said the EU was determined that the Bonn talks would not fail like other recent negotiations on climate control, which postponed decisions by deferring them to later meetings.

"A postponement and then another postponement: to have broken this endless circus around climate control -- that's what we have done in Bonn."

The EU negotiators succeeded only by making compromises that disappointed those calling for urgent action to slow down the harmful effects of global warming. Chief among them was a retreat from a clause in the Kyoto Protocol calling for a 5.2 percent reduction in greenhouses gases from the 1990 level by 2012. Under pressure from Japan and other countries, the Bonn conference agreed to change this to a 1.8 percent reduction.

Immediately after the accord was accepted, the chairman of the UN-sponsored Bonn conference, Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk, warned that there are still many hurdles to overcome before the world is protected from the effects of greenhouses gases. He said that important tissues set aside at the conference in the interests of reaching a compromise "eventually will have to be tackled. We have made an important first step," Pronk added, "but more must follow."

The first hurdle is persuading a sufficient number of national parliaments to ratify the agreement. At least 55 countries must ratify it for it to come into force, and among them they must account for at least 55 percent of the greenhouse gases generated in industrialized countries.

It was this requirement that compelled the Bonn conference to make compromises on behalf of Russia and Japan, because both countries produce a great deal of greenhouse gases. The United States is responsible for about one-third of the greenhouse gases produced in the northern hemisphere, but it has withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol. This made the support of Russia and Japan crucial in meeting the 55 percent requirement.

Another problem which was set aside in Bonn was how to ensure that the commitments made by individual countries are met. The European Union and several developing countries sought tough measures against countries failing to meet their obligations. Japan, Canada, and Australia argued against tough sanctions. Delegates said some progress was made, but more negotiations are needed.

One of the major decisions taken in Bonn was to grant so-called "environment credits" to countries with large areas of forest and grassland. Russia and Canada insisted that the conference accept that these areas can absorb large amount of greenhouse gases. They were strongly backed by a report presented by a U.S. expert on the atmosphere, Kevin Gurney of Colorado State University. More support came from Robert Watson, the chief scientific advisor of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The conference's acceptance of these arguments played a large role in persuading Japan and Canada to accept the Bonn agreement. The environment credits granted to Japan for its forests and green areas amount to a 5 percent cut in its obligation to reduce greenhouse gases. Russia and Canada also benefited from their large forest regions.

A German official, Juergen Schmitt, said that although these and other compromises weakened the agreement sought by the European Union, the Bonn accord represented at least a step forward.

"The climate conference in Bonn has not closed any holes in the ozone layer. But it is the first step on a long road."

But German Environment Minister Trittin told reporters that a true reduction in the danger of global warming would come only when the world changed its ways and took effective measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

"Climate protection will become effective only when we change our ways and permanently reduce carbon dioxide emissions."

Trittin said the most important figure cited at the Bonn conference was in a report showing that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing by about 0.5 percent annually. He said this meant that sooner or later all industrial countries will have to make reductions in greenhouse emissions, regardless of whether they have forests or not.

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