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Staff writer

Top environmental officials from Japan, the United States and eight other non-European Union industrialized countries will hold secret talks in Tokyo in late January to discuss a joint strategy on the issue of global warming, government sources said Thursday.

The sources said the talks will be held Jan. 20-21 among ambassadorial level officials from nine members of the so-called Umbrella Group of Emissions Trading plus Kazakstan.

The Umbrella Group comprises Japan, the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Ukraine. Kazakstan holds observer status.

The meeting will come less than three months after the closing of COP5 — the fifth Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — in Bonn last week. The framework convention was signed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

As widely expected, the COP 5 delegates, who came from more than 150 signatory countries to the U.N. convention, failed to work out details of emissions trading and some other complex mechanisms aimed at helping industrialized countries meet reduction targets on emissions of carbon dioxide and some other types of greenhouse gases widely blamed for global warming.

At COP3 in Kyoto at the end of 1997, the U.N. convention signatory countries adopted the Kyoto Protocol, which sets legally binding emissions reduction targets for industrialized countries. The total volume of their greenhouse gas emissions must be slashed by 5.2 percent from the 1990 levels by 2012.

The protocol specifically calls for Japan, the U.S. and the 15-nation European Union to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other types of greenhouse gases during that period by 6 percent, 7 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Although the introduction of emissions trading and some other mechanisms, including the clean development mechanism, was agreed upon at COP3, no significant progress has been made in negotiating the details of the mechanisms because of sharp differences of opinion, even among industrialized countries.

Emissions trading is a scheme intended to help industrialized countries that are having difficulties meeting their reduction targets. Those countries will be allowed to purchase the rights to emit greenhouse gases from other industrialized countries that can afford to make deeper cuts than mandated by the Kyoto Protocol.

The issue of emissions trading has pitted the EU against most other industrialized countries. The EU, backed by many developing countries, insists on imposing strict limits on emissions trading, claiming that unlimited use of the mechanism would discourage industrialized countries from making sufficient efforts at home to cut greenhouse gases.

At COP5, Japan, Germany and some other countries expressed hope that the Kyoto Protocol would become effective by 2002, just a decade after the 1992 Earth Summit.

The protocol needs to be ratified by 55 signatory countries to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change before it can take effect. But only a dozen of the developing countries have ratified it so far.

No industrialized country has ratified the document because there is no agreement on the specifics of emissions trading and some other mechanisms.

It is widely believed that an agreement on the details of those mechanisms at COP6 scheduled for next November in The Hague will be essential to realizing the Kyoto Protocol by 2002.

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