G8 environment talks open on high note but odds remain

COP6 success said crucial; Kyoto Protocol still hanging

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OTSU, Shiga Pref. — Environment ministers of the Group of Eight nations who gathered here Saturday agreed it is crucial to make the next set of climate change talks in November a success, but significant differences remain to be resolved.

Following discussions on climate change, participants seemed uniformly upbeat about the strong consensus on the need to make COP6 — the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — a success.

Head of the European delegation and Commissioner for the Environment Margo Wallstrom said the talks were progressing well. “I think that this has been very good. Talks have been positive and clear. Everyone says that we must act to make COP6 a success, and that is promising,” she said.

Ministers agreed that to achieve this they collectively need to show political leadership to nurture interest and activity among industry and citizens.

They also concurred on the importance of using every opportunity to iron out differences in the runup to the November gathering.

Likewise, environment ministers of the world’s wealthiest countries agreed on the need to encourage greenhouse gas reduction among developing countries, which are estimated to become the largest emitters of such gases sometime after 2020.

The transfer of technology to build developing nations’ capacity to implement programs will be of central importance, they said.

“I thought it was a very positive discussion. There is a genuine commitment to resolving differences,” said U.S. delegation member David Sandalow.

But the biggest sticking point remains when the Kyoto Protocol — a first step toward tackling climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases — should go into force. The protocol was agreed upon at COP3 in Kyoto in December of 1997.

“We would prefer to have a definite date spelled out and would like that date to be 2002,” said Karsten Sach of the German delegation.

The U.S. delegation remains reluctant to commit to a specific date for putting the protocol into force because it must first be approved by the U.S. Senate.

Discussion participants say the U.S. fears that committing to a certain date could prove “counterproductive” by engendering resistance among the Senate.

Also aired were differences on whether to restrict the use of clean development mechanisms — a method that would allow nations to receive credits permitting the emission of greenhouse gases in return for programs reducing emissions in other countries.

Ministers, however, did agree that it would be imperative to bring developing countries into the fold.

“It was the opinion of everyone that over time major developing countries must take responsibility on their shoulders as well,” said Karsten, who is in charge of global conventions for Germany’s Environment Ministry.

But prior to that it is incumbent upon developed nations, namely the G8 countries, to lead by example, showing that tackling climate change offers opportunity for growth, he said.

The key question hanging over the COP6 negotiations to be held in The Hague in November are whether nations can muster a consensus to push ahead with the Kyoto Protocol.

In discussions on sustainable development in the 21st century and the Rio Plus 10 gathering in 2002, ministers agreed that the event should involve the participation of cities, emphasize the role of citizens in environmental protection, and result in a concrete strategy that will translate into definitive action.

Most also agreed that the meeting should be hosted by a developing country and stressed the importance of their participation.

The Rio Plus 10 conference has been touted as the largest environmental gathering this century and is the legacy of the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where the global warming and biodiversity treaty were first adopted, in June 1992.

Topics of high priority for the Rio Plus 10 meet include poverty and the environment; health and the environment; forests and biodiversity; shifting to sustainable consumption patterns; and aid for technology development.

G8 delegation officials were expected to work late into the night drafting a mutually satisfactory communique to be adopted by the ministers today.