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World: Pressure Is On At Bonn Climate Change Talks

An international conference on climate change opened yesterday in Bonn with the United States and Japan coming under heavy pressure to help salvage the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. The European Union has pledged its support to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but Washington and Tokyo have so far skirted the issue. RFE/RL correspondent Alexandra Poolos speaks with an environmental analyst about the significance of the conference.

Prague, 17 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A crucial meeting on climate control got underway yesterday in Bonn, Germany, with delegates from 180 countries meeting to try to rescue the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

The protocol has significant support in Western Europe, but the U.S. renounced it four months ago. The pact calls for standardized reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and other heat-trapping pollutants.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton backed the treaty but, to the outrage of many Western Europeans, his successor George W. Bush pulled out of it shortly after taking office. Bush said he was withdrawing because it would harm U.S. economic interests and required insufficient action from developing countries like China and India.

The Bonn conference opened yesterday with the 15 leaders of European Union nations issuing a joint statement promising to fulfill their treaty commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There was strong criticism of the Bush administration's position, with German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin saying, "We cannot allow the country with the biggest emissions of greenhouse gases to escape responsibility for protecting the global climate."

So far, U.S. delegates at the meeting have not responded to European criticism or proposed any new environmental initiatives.

Environmental activists say that the Bonn conference could decide the fate of the Kyoto Protocol. Peter Tabuns is in Bonn representing Greenpeace International. He spoke today with RFE/RL on the significance of the meeting and its expected outcome.

"The overall significance is that it's another attempt to move the treaty process forward. The clock is ticking. Every year that goes by, every month that goes by without taking action to reduce our emissions means more and more damage to the earth. Greater and greater risk to human life, greater and greater risk to our economies."

Tabuns said that Japan has become the country to watch during the next two weeks. Although the Kyoto Protocol was named for Japan's ancient capital, where it was agreed upon four years ago, Japan has said that it will only agree to the treaty if the United States does so as well.

To progress, the pact must be ratified by 55 countries accounting for 55 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions in 1990. More than 80 countries have signed the Kyoto document, but no major polluter has ratified the treaty. And if Japan pulls out, the 55 percent emissions target cannot be reached.

Tabuns says that European Union members are hoping to pressure Japan into accepting the protocol. But, he says, it's not yet clear whether that strategy is having any effect.

"I would say for the last day and a half it can't be predicted whether the Europeans will put enough pressure on Japan. Certainly, there's a lot of frustration on the part of non-governmental organizations that Japan seems to be taking a much weaker line than it could take or should take. Is there going to be enough will on the part of the Europeans to move them, will they put enough pressure, can't be told."

Tabuns says the Japanese government is suffering from an internal split over the Kyoto Protocol, as well as from great U.S. pressure.

"We understand there's some split within Japan between the bureaucracy and [the political leadership]. I imagine America's position has put an enormous pressure on them as well. They're having a very difficult time breaking out from the American orbit and taking an independent position."

While some analysts say that the Bonn conference will determine the future of the Kyoto Protocol, Tabuns suggests that the meeting later this week of the G-7 plus Russia conference in Genoa, Italy, may be more important in determining the fate of the document. In Genoa, EU leaders will be able to meet face-to-face with President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and apply direct pressure on them to adopt what they consider a more cooperative attitude toward global warming.