The international effort to save the Kyoto Protocol on global warming foundered yesterday as major differences opened up between Europe and Japan.
The Japanese government criticised a last minute European proposal aimed at salvaging the Kyoto agreement, which has been in jeopardy since President George Bush's government announced in March that it would not ratify the agreement. The Japanese Environment Minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi, said the European plan, devised by the Dutch Environment Minister, Jan Pronk, has "a lot of problems" and insisted that the treaty cannot work without American participation.
"We are working hard to get an agreement in Bonn and are willing to be flexible," the EU environmental commissioner, Margot Wallstrom, said in a statement released in Brussels. "The key question is: do other countries, including Japan, have the political will to make Bonn a success? And will the US let the other parties go ahead? That is at least what President Bush promised."
Delegations from more than 100 countries have gathered in The Hague to discuss proposals to be put to a full-scale conference on the climate change agreement, which will be held in Bonn next month. It is generally regarded as the last chance to save the framework treaty, which was agreed after agonising negotiations in the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto in 1997.
Since President Bush's new government rejected the treaty, Japan has become the crucial player in international negotiations. The Europeans have promised to ratify the treaty with or without Washington. But this would be a token effort without the participation of Tokyo, which finds itself torn diplomatically.
On the one hand, Japanese officials are keen to save a treaty that they did so much to bring to birth. But they are reluctant to take a line independent of the US, Japan's protector and closest international friend. Ms Kawaguchi insists that the US must be brought back to the table, an ambition that the Europeans regard as vain.
Mr Pronk's proposals contain concessions designed to win over the Japanese – in particular, an agreement that Japan will be allowed to count the absorption of carbon dioxide through forests for more than half of its promised 6 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Other industrialised countries are allowed to do this for only 50 per cent of their reduction quota.
Jennifer Morgan, the climate change director for the environmental group World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said that pressure was mounting on Japan to move forward without the United States, as the European Union has said it would.
"The future of the protocol lies in the hands of Japan. It will either live or die depending on what Japan decides," she said.
The Kyoto Protocol aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of industrialised countries by an average of 5.2 per cent from 1990 levels by 2012.