Japan hints at ratifying Kyoto without the US

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The Independent Online

Japan gave its strongest hint yet yesterday that it would join other countries in ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on climate change without the United States, the country that drew international outrage earlier this year by withdrawing its support for the treaty.

The Japanese want Kyoto to "enter into force by 2002", the Environment Minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi, said at the latest round of talks on the troubled document in Bonn, the former German capital.

"It is important that all countries participate, and it is important that we do not spend too much time waiting for the US to come in," she said.

Although Ms Kawaguchi did not use the word "ratify", bringing the protocol into being involves ratification by nations producing at least 55 per cent of the industrialised world's carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Without the US, that must include Japan, as well as Europe and Russia.

Ms Kawaguchi said: "Japan will do its utmost to come to an agreement aiming at the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol by 2002. American participation is very important for the full effectiveness of the measures to combat global warming. Before all countries, participation of the United States is the best scenario, so Japan is trying to bridge the gap between the United States and other countries."

Friends of the Earth criticised the minister for not going far enough in clarifying Japan's position. Greenpeace responded positively, but was more interested in what Junichiro Koizumi, Japan's Prime Minister, had to say.

Nearly 170 countries are taking part in the two-week talks. Officials are doing the groundwork now and ministers will arrive from tomorrow to try to hammer out a political deal by the start of next week and avoid the sort of collapse witnessed at The Hague talks.

Britain's delegation will be led by Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for the Environment, with John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, visiting tomorrow.

Negotiations are concentrating on four areas: financial help for developing countries; enforcing the treaty; the use of forests as "sinks" to soak up carbon dioxide; and the special measures by which industrialised nations can get credits against their greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets by setting up projects in the Third World.

British sources said last night that the initial atmosphere was good. "With the exception of the US, the desire for progress on the Kyoto Protocol seems pretty strong and widespread," one said.

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