• Kyodo

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The president of the sixth Conference of the Parties of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change urged Japan and other U.S. allies Monday to be independent in setting their positions for international talks on climate change.

“I do not think it would be wise for countries to make their participation to an agreement dependent on the American participation in the agreement,” Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk told Kyodo News in an interview.

U.S. President George W. Bush the same day rejected the 1997 international pact on global warming as “fatally flawed” and called for an alternative requiring the participation of developing countries and more science-based solutions.

Doubts have been expressed about whether traditional U.S. allies such as Australia and Canada, as well as Japan, are positive about trying to reach a comprehensive agreement at the resumed session of COP6 in Bonn, Germany, between July 16 and July 27.

“There are possibilities that Japan could withhold its consent to a package deal in the meeting, since we are not fully aware of the U.S. position,” a Japanese official in Tokyo told Kyodo by telephone.

The Europeans, who have been at odds with their U.S. ally in past talks, also fear that some countries, because of economic dependence on the United States, may change their positions in the long run and follow Washington if it continues to stay out of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

But Pronk, who will chair the resumed meeting, said that parties attending the talks should make a distinction between seeking an agreement at the meeting and implementing ratification of the international pact, which is aimed at curbing global warming.

“I could foresee that the decision to ratify (the accord) at a certain moment would be made dependent on American ratification,” said Pronk, apparently not giving up hope that Washington could return to the pact in the future, even though there is no indication that the U.S. is considering that at the moment.

Pronk’s comments appear to reflect his desire to avoid a breakdown in the long-standing negotiation process. If the parties fail to reach an agreement in Bonn, it would be difficult for a sufficient number of countries to ratify the protocol by the target data of next year.

Under the accord, rich countries committed themselves to reducing their collective emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases by more than 5 percent compared with 1990 levels during the five-year period of 2008-2012. Any delay in ratification could lead to the rich countries failing to meet the target.

Pronk’s new proposal for the resumed COP6 meeting, made public earlier Monday, gives preferential treatment to Japan in the use of forests as carbon “sinks” to absorb carbon dioxide, in a bid to salvage the floundering accord.

“I have taken into account specific problems of individual countries and I have made an exception” for Japan, Pronk said, pointing out that with 66 percent of its land area covered by forest, Japan would have difficulty in the use of sinks because of limitations on planting new trees to absorb carbon dioxide.

“I have given indications that a concession could be made, in particular with regard to a major stumbling block or sinks capacity,” applying an exceptional rule to Tokyo and accepting its demand to solve its own problems, Pronk said.

According to the Pronk plan, parties except Japan could count direct human effects such as planting new trees since 1990 toward their emission cut targets.

Japan wanted to include emission cuts through natural forest absorption and hopes to achieve a maximum 3.7 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions through forest absorption and reforestation, Japanese officials said. Tokyo is required to cut emissions by 6 percent, compared with 1990 levels, during the 2008-2012 period.

Without U.S. participation, Japan’s involvement is crucial for bringing the pact into force by the 2002 target year. The agreement requires ratification by at least 55 parties representing at least 55 percent of signatories’ total 1990 carbon dioxide emissions. Japan accounted for 8.5 percent of such emissions.

In Brussels, Margot Wallstrom, the EU environment commissioner, said the EU is ready to be flexible with Japan, saying, “We are fully aware of the fact that we will have to look at how to keep Japan on board in order to keep the Kyoto process alive.”

Asked if the new proposal could be a good basis for substantial talks in Bonn, Pronk said he has succeeded in coming forward with a package that is “balanced,” adding that the package is not only good for one party.

“We have lost time already. You cannot continue changing the text. It is now up to governments to not only participate in a constructive way, but also to try to reach a constructive agreement, which is operational,” Pronk said.

Before the Bonn session, parties to the U.N. convention will discuss the proposal in The Hague during preparatory talks between June 25 and June 28.

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