Environment: North-South rift threatens to sink climate treaty

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The Independent Online
Poor countries are furious about the rich world's proposal to limit their rising emissions of pollution. Nicholas Schoon in Kyoto explains why they are so outraged.

The great north-south divide has long threatened to scupper the UN climate treaty negotiations in Japan. With only five days left, the threat loomed larger last night.

That was because of New Zealand's proposal that the treaty should be widened to include most of the developing world as well as the wealthy, industrialised countries.

"It's absolutely unacceptable," said the chief negotiator for the developing world, Mark Nwandosya, a Tanzanian engineering professor. Argentina's representative appealed to New Zealand: "Please, withdraw this proposal for the good of the conference."

The unfinished treaty, now the subject of late-night wrangling, was never meant to cover the Third World. Two-and-a-half years ago, in Berlin, rich countries agreed that by the time the conference now under way in Kyoto ended they - and they alone - would have agreed on what cuts to make in their climate- changing emissions over the first decade of the next century. It was called the Berlin Mandate, and it bound only the developed world, because it has produced the vast majority of greenhouse gases to date. These countries still produce more than half the annual total.

But emissions are rising fast in the developing countries and by about 2015 the Third World's combined annual output will equal, and then overtake, that of the developed countries

Seeing that, and under pressure from a Republican-dominated Congress, the Clinton administration wants to shift the goalposts.

In the run-up to Kyoto the US has been proposing that the big developing countries, especially India and China, must sign up to at least slowing their rapid emission growth.

Australia feels the same way, and now New Zealand has given this demand firm expression with yesterday's written proposal.

It says that at Kyoto the developing countries must promise, by 2002, precisely how much they will slow down the rise in their emissions over the next 12 years up to 2014. Only the very poorest nations, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, would be excluded. The conference host, Japan, said the proposal provided "a good basis for negotiations".

The EU and Britain were more lukewarm, saying that while Third World countries must be brought into the treaty soon, this was not expected at Kyoto. The average Chinese produces one-eighth the global-warming carbon dioxide of the average American, and the average Indian only one-twenty- fifth.

Professor Nwandosya suggested that if countries such as the US insist on the Third World making undertakings now, the Kyoto negotiations will fail and there would be no global warming treaty.

"Global health warnings" should be attached to advertisements for oil and petrol, a pension-fund director suggested at the conference yesterday.

They would be similar to the warnings which accompany all advertisements for tobacco: a short government message stating that consumption of fossil fuels was threatening dangerous changes in climate.

"This is a precautionary measure which all governments can readily take," said Tessa Tennant, of NPI Global Care Investment.