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Vice President Al Gore Heads to the Climate Talks in Kyoto, Japan With a More Ambitious U

December 7, 1997

Vice President Al Gore Heads to the Climate Talks in Kyoto, Japan With a More Ambitious U.S. Proposal for Cutting Back Gas Emissions Tied to Global WarmingBy CHARLES J. HANLEY

KYOTO, Japan (AP) _ European negotiators looked Sunday to Vice President Al Gore, bound for Kyoto and the climate talks, to bring a more ambitious U.S. proposal for cutting back the gas emissions tied to global warming.

``The United States can do much more,″ said Ritt Bjerregaard, the European Union environmental commissioner.

Differences between Europe and America over cutback targets stood as a major obstacle to completion of the Kyoto Protocol, an unprecedented global agreement to control energy use in the 21st century.

Gore and the environment ministers of scores of other countries address the historic conference Monday and Tuesday as the pace picks up toward a Wednesday conclusion.

The U.S. vice president, long a champion of environmental causes, left for Japan after a quick visit Saturday to the Florida Everglades, a region scientists say might eventually be threatened by the rising waters of global warming.

In Kyoto, behind the scenes in the complex, highly technical talks, negotiators were juggling a bagful of adjustable features _ timetables, reduction levels, the gases to be covered _ in an effort to find a U.S.-European compromise.

``The differences are not enormous. They’re capable of being overcome in the next few days,″ said U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an observer at the talks.

But the Connecticut Democrat was less optimistic about another dispute, the U.S. effort to win concessions from developing nations on emission reductions, a feature the Senate demands for eventual ratification in Washington.

The 10-day conference wraps up two years of negotiations to strengthen the 1992 Climate Change Treaty, by setting legally binding limits on 34 industrial nations’ emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, mostly byproducts of fossil fuel burning, that trap heat in the atmosphere. The United States produces 24 percent of global carbon dioxide.

International scientists reported in 1995 global temperatures had increased about 0.6 degrees Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit) in the past century, apparently in part because of the greenhouse effect.

They projected temperatures would rise up to an additional 3.5 degrees Celsius (6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, shifting climate zones, unsettling regional weather and raising sea levels up to 95 centimeters (37 inches), inundating islands and shorelines, including low-lying areas of Florida and Louisiana.

In October, President Clinton laid out the U.S. proposal for the Kyoto Protocol: that the industrialized world roll back greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010. But the Europeans have a more ambitious plan, reducing gases 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2010.

That gap has been the central point of contention within the industrial bloc in the first week’s negotiations.

Key mediator Raul Estrada, an Argentine diplomat, has proposed a compromise whereby the European Union would take 10 percent cuts below 1990 levels, Japan 2.5 percent, and the United States and others 5 percent.

On Sunday, however, ranking European officials made clear they were not interested.

``We do not accept differentiation which means one target for the United States and another for the EU,″ Ms. Bjerregaard, a Dane, told reporters. ``The United States is the biggest emitter and has a lot of possibility to do better than their proposal.″

She and other European officials said they hoped Gore would bring some fresh ideas to the table.

Negotiators had a lot to work with.

Under one compromise approach, the Europeans would register deeper reductions in a first period, to 2010 or so, but further American cuts in the second decade would tend to even things out.

Another approach involves the number of gases covered.

The U.S. proposal covers six gases. But if only carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, the most common greenhouse gases, are covered, the U.S. cuts proposed by Washington would actually represent about a 5 percent reduction below 1990 levels.

The protocol will not prescribe measures to be taken in individual countries to achieve the reductions. But they are likely to include conversion of coal-fired power plants to gas, development of more fuel-efficient automotive technology, and elimination of subsidies that make fossil fuels cheaper for consumers.

The issue of developing-country involvement looked less promising for American negotiators.

Third World countries have been exempted from mandatory emissions controls in the climate negotiations, since the industrial North is responsible historically for the carbon accumulation in the atmosphere.

The U.S. Senate demands some kind of commitments from some developing countries to reduce emissions, but Third World delegations have staunchly resisted those suggestions.

``Clearly, there will not be any binding commitments,″ Lieberman said. He said the Clinton administration may have to work after a Kyoto accord to win bilateral agreements from Third World nations to limit growth in emissions.

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