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July 30
, 2001
Volume 79, Number 31
CENEAR 79 31 p. 13
ISSN 0009-2347
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Nations achieve compromise on rules for implementing the Kyoto protocol


In a move that caught many observers off guard, 178 nations negotiating in Bonn, Germany, agreed July 23 on rules for implementing the Kyoto protocol on climate change. The protocol requires industrialized nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 5.2% below the 1990 level by 2012.

All nations, except the U.S., hailed the agreement as a major breakthrough. Any accord that makes a start on curbing global warming is better than nothing, said Margot Wallström, the European Union's environment commissioner. Reaching an agreement on the treaty is "not only important for climate reasons," but also "to show that multilateral negotiations within the framework of the United Nations do make sense," said Jan Pronk, environment minister for the Netherlands who chaired the meeting. He was given four standing ovations for his successful effort to reach a compromise among the quarreling nations.

In contrast, Paula J. Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for global affairs who headed the U.S. delegation, was booed at the meeting when she said the Bush Administration is still committed to tackling climate change.

The Bonn agreement covers four principal areas: rules for emissions trading; rules for crediting nations for the CO2 absorbed by sinks, such as forests and grasslands; funding to help developing countries reduce their emissions; and mechanisms for encouraging compliance with the targets.

Although environmental groups found the agreement imperfect, they praised it. "The alternative--no agreement--would have been a disaster," said Alden Mayer, director of government relations at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Business leaders have mixed feelings about the agreement. Paul V. Tebo, vice president for safety, health, and the environment at DuPont, says, "The signal has been given that there will be a Kyoto protocol." Tebo opposes the protocol because the time frame is too short for a reasonable change in infrastructure to meet the targets, but he does want the U.S. to set a CO2 cap at some point so that carbon credits will have value. "We have a lot of interest in trading carbon emissions credits," he says.

Although the U.S. made no contribution to the negotiating process over the Kyoto rules, the agreement may give a boost to bills introduced in the House and Senate to address climate change. "The odds are improving that this Congress will deal with the issue before the 2002 election," said Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Science Committee.

Bipartisan bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to raise fuel efficiency standards for sport-utility vehicles and light trucks. Boehlert expects a bill raising the standards to pass.

And Sens. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), climate-change skeptics, are cosponsoring a bill that would direct the White House Office on Climate Change to produce annual strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It is still unclear whether Japan will ratify the protocol; it has made no explicit promise to do so. Without Japan's ratification, the treaty would die because it must be ratified by at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of the 1990 industrialized world emissions to come into effect. Given U.S. nonparticipation, this percentage cannot be reached without Japan. However, Japan has given many indications it will ratify. "We have already started efforts to implement the target," said Yoriko Kawaguchi, Japan's environment minister.

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