Breakthrough announced in talks on global warming

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The Independent Online

Negotiators from 178 nations locked in talks for nearly 48 hours reached a deal to salvage a treaty on combatting global warming Monday, a U.N. spokesman announced.

A single outstanding issue – how to enforce legally binding sanctions against violators of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol – had held up a deal. Details of the agreement were to be released at an open meeting of the delegates later Monday, U.N. spokesman Michael Williams said.

"I prefer an imperfect agreement that is living than an imperfect agreement that doesn't exist," chief EU negotiator Olivier Deleuze said.

The breakthrough effectively isolates the United States, which rejected the treaty in March.

"Almost every single country stayed in the protocol," Deleuze said. "There was one that said the Kyoto Protocol was flawed. Do you see the Kyoto Protocol flawed?"

Another key negotiator, Peter Hodgson of New Zealand, said all parties agreed to the compromise without exception –– clearing the way for nations to continue the process of ratifying the protocol.

The treaty takes force when 55 nations responsible for 55 percent of global green gas emissions have ratified the treaty – which negotiators hope to achieve in 2002.

Threatened with the second breakdown of negotiations in eight months, conference chairman Jan Pronk urged the yawning delegates to redouble their efforts late Sunday and to contact their capitals for guidance.

He appealed to them not to offer new amendments, which would lead to sure collapse.

"This is a good text. It is a balanced text," Pronk said. "It is my conviction that it is possible to reach a full agreement."

Most delegations agreed Sunday night to accept without any changes Pronk's compromise proposal on rules governing the protocol, which delegates hope to bring into force next year. But Japan held fast to its refusal to accept the accord's enforcement clause.

Pronk said holdout countries carried enough weight to block ratification of the accord, which aims to curb the emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

The deadlock forced the high–level delegates to continue a long series of consultations as minister after minister missed flights home from the conference, originally scheduled to end Sunday night.

Japan's chief objection was to language that would impose legally binding sanctions against treaty violators. The European Union said it would be willing to amend the clause but only as part of a deal, EU delegates said, on condition of anonymity.

A bloc of developing countries and China also were concerned about funds that were promised for developing clean technologies, Pronk said. Again, the EU was showing flexibility. Pronk said it was considering a separate political statement guaranteeing financial aid.

"We're real close. What's left on the table are not mega–issues," said Philip Clapp, president of National Environmental Trust.

The climate talks have already failed once when a conference last November in The Hague, Netherlands, collapsed in a last–minute dispute between the United States and the Europeans.

In a major concession by the EU, the draft accord allows countries to offset their obligations to reduce industrial pollution by counting the proper management of forests and farmlands that absorb carbon dioxide, known as carbon "sinks."

Environmental groups said the heavy allowance for sinks effectively reduced the commitment in the Kyoto accord to cut emissions by 5.2 percent from their 1990 levels. In fact, the reduction would be closer to 1.8 percent, said the World Wildlife Fund for Nature.