Japan deals blow to Kyoto treaty

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The prospect of a deal to salvage the Kyoto Protocol on climate change suffered another blow yesterday when Japan said it was not willing to conclude an agreement unless the United States came back on board.

At talks in Tokyo, European Union negotiators failed to secure Japanese support for their policy of proceeding with Kyoto's terms on a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions whatever the position of America, which renounced its commitment to the treaty in March. A spokeswoman for Margot Wallström, the EU's environment commissioner, conceded: "The Japanese have indicated that despite the fact that they share the Kyoto targets and they want the protocol enforced by 2002, they are not, at present, willing to conclude the deal without the US."

Negotiations over Kyoto resume in Bonn next week after acrimoniously breaking up in The Hague in November last year when the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, spectacularly walked out.

That was over America's insistence on counting the ability of its forests to absorb carbon dioxide towards its emissions reduction target. Since then, however, President George Bush has unilaterally abrogated the treaty's basic principle, saying he is not prepared to countenance mandatory emission cuts at all. Europe's hope of carrying on without America is based on the treaty being ratified if nations whose emissions add up to at least 55 per cent of the total of the industrialised countries agree to do so. Thus, the EU, Russia and Japan could ratify, acting together.

Tokyo's position, regarded by some EU officials as inconsistent, remained difficult to read yesterday, ahead of bilateral talks between Japan and America later this week.

One possibility is that the two countries will table a revised set of proposals with a new timetable of weaker targets, presenting the EU with a difficult choice as to whether to stick to the existing Kyoto terms.

Ms Wallström's spokeswoman said that Japanese reluctance to act without the US did not preclude the possibility of some progress with Japan on detailed negotiations that might help clinch a future deal.

Meanwhile, Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, told Tokyo that "there is increasing scientific evidence that global warming presents us all with an awesome challenge", and added: "There is no room for fudge or delay in dealing with it."

On Thursday, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will publish its latest climate change assessments, which stress that global warming is a reality and man-made pollution is the most likely cause.

Over Kyoto, Japan has found itself in recent months in a crucial and unaccustomed diplomatic position: on a dispute of global importance, which is dividing Japan's diplomatic allies in Europe and the US, Tokyo has what amounts to a casting vote.

Reflecting their alarm at finding themselves in such a position, officials from the Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, down have been unanimous only in their confusion. Japan's official position is that it hopes to persuade Mr Bush to change his mind. But yesterday, Mr Koizumi's official spokesman admitted that he was not optimistic about the chances of achieving this.