EU environment chief says Kyoto Protocol is up to Japan

EU environment chief says Kyoto Protocol is up to Japan

BRUSSELS, May 22 Kyodo

The European Union (EU) environment chief expressed hopes that Japan will continue helping salvage the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, rejected by the United States, which is yet to show any sign of rejoining the international accord aimed at curbing global warming.

”Since we want to ratify (the Kyoto Protocol) already next year, we are dependent on Japan, Russia,” and some other traditional U.S. allies to bring the pact into force as early as 2002, EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said in an interview with Kyodo News.

Wallstrom said the EU will step up its efforts to further cooperate with Japan, adding that both sides will be able to start negotiating on some issues which are highly important for Japan and Europe ahead of July’s U.N. conference on climate change.

But she expressed concerns that Japan and other U.S. allies, such as Canada and Australia, may change their positions and follow the U.S. move if Washington continues to stay out of the protocol, since the countries are economically dependent on the U.S.

”Even if some of them (the allies) now say that they are committed to the protocol, there is of course a risk in the end,” Wallstrom said, adding, ”It could be difficult for some of those traditionally tied very close to the United States to actually take sides against the United States.”

This could eventuate under the ”worst scenario” if the U.S. recruits traditional allies to strengthen Washington’s revised position, Wallstrom said.

The sixth Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP6) ended last November in The Hague without reaching any comprehensive agreement.

The German government later announced it will host a resumed COP6 meeting, due to be held July 16-27 in Bonn.

Following the breakdown, U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration announced in late March that the U.S., the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, would be ditching the agreement, saying that it would present an ”innovative” alternative plan. Carbon dioxide is one of main greenhouse gases.

Wallstrom described one of main obstacles to the Bonn meeting as ”a feeling of a vacuum,” whereby without knowing what the U.S. intends to do, most parties consider it difficult to agree on tough issues such as the so-called carbon ”sinks,” or the natural absorption of greenhouse gases by trees and soil.

”I think it is very important to anticipate what we want to see as an outcome of discussions in Bonn. How do we define a success? We will have to continue to look for a realistic but still important step forward,” she said, hinting that expectations for the resumed conference could be lowered.

Wallstrom still stressed that the EU’s role under the condition is ”crucial.” She said Brussels is trying to put itself ”in the driver’s seat,” urging Japan to take the assistant driver’s seat to steer the car back on the right track.

She said an agreement between Japan and the EU could facilitate a comprehensive agreement, adding that the EU will maintain close ties with Tokyo and other key players such as developing countries mostly affected by the consequences of global warming like drought.

Japan’s Environment Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi met Sunday with Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, to discuss how to proceed with negotiations toward the conference. Pronk will chair the Bonn meeting.

While she did not disclose contents of the talks, Kawaguchi told a press conference that Japan will do its best to make the Kyoto Protocol come into effect by the target date 2002, urging the EU to show more flexibility to bring Washington to the negotiating table.

Wallstrom dismissed Kawaguchi’s remarks as unfair. ”You give some and you get some. This is how we should go also for continued discussions,” the former Swedish social affairs minister said.

With regard to a compromise paper, which was presented to the parties by Pronk in April, Wallstrom said it could not be a basis for further negotiations because many parties, including Japan, expressed dissatisfaction with the proposals.

Developed countries will meet in The Hague on June 5 and 28 to attempt to find common ground and to finalize preparations for Bonn, Wallstrom said.

The Kyoto agreement, negotiated and signed under U.N. auspices, requires the world’s industrialized countries to impose binding limits on emissions of heat-trapping gases which experts believe are causing significant changes in Earth’s climate.

Under the accord, wealthy nations committed themselves to reducing their collective emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases. Japan is required to cut emissions by 6% compared with 1990 levels during the five-year period of 2008-2012, while the U.S. is committed to 7% and the EU 8%.

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