US call on developing states splits conference


The world's battle to halt catastrophic warming of the planet crept painfully forward yesterday, with gaping divides threatening any agreement in the landmark United Nations conference. The US, the key player and biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, continued to insist that poor countries make new commitments at the 10-day Kyoto conference.

States were divided over how far greenhouse gas emissions should be cut, how many gases to include and the US demand to developing countries. The talks are aimed at imposing legally-binding cuts in emissions.

The principal US negotiator, Ms Melinda Kimble, told a news conference: "As the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, developed countries must take the first step to reduce them. But the United States will not accept binding limits without meaningful participation by developing countries."

But Mr Raul Estrada, the president of the key negotiating body at the UN conference, ruled out any such decision.

"Quantitative commitments for developing countries will come with time," Mr Estrada said. "But this is not today in the mandate."

Many of the 147 state delegations at the meeting looked to the impending arrival of US VicePresident Al Gore for a softening in Washington's stance.

The US decision to send Mr Gore "shows the will to improve in different proposals and to commit with all countries to achieve the objectives of the convention," said Mr Estrada.

Mr Gore would be in a "good position" to help the US team over any last-minute obstacles, said Mr Pierre Gramegna, the ambassador from Luxembourg who heads the EU delegation.

He said tough talking from President Clinton and Mr Gore were negotiating stances.

Mr Clinton said in Washington that the US would oppose any accord that offered "something politically palatable, but that won't produce a result."

Mr Gramegna reported a thaw, however, in the frosty atmosphere at the talks between the EU and the US.

The previous day Washington attacked the EU proposal that it be treated as if it were one country - a so-called bubble.

"I would say I am slightly more optimistic than yesterday," Mr Gramegna told a news conference. "Instead of having confrontational views the tone was much more down to earth and discussing the differences."

Taking 1990 greenhouse gas emissions as a base, the EU is calling for a 15 per cent cut by 2010, Japan for a 5 per cent cut between 2008 and 2012, and the US for no change between 2008 and 2012.

Each offer, however, has a different basis. The US, for example, includes six greenhouse gases in its proposal while the EU and Japan include only three.

Delegates welcomed Canada's announcement the previous day that it would push for a 3 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2010.

That was followed yesterday by New Zealand's heavily-conditional offer to cut emissions by 5 per cent over five years.

Meeting late into the night, key negotiators agreed to study a proposal that three key gases be included in any deal in Kyoto and that a further three be taken up later, said the Australian negotiator, Ms Meg McDonald.

According to UN estimates, current emission trends are likely to cause average global temperatures to rise 1.0 to 3.5 degrees Celsius over the next 100 years.