US blocks attempts to cut global warming

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The Independent Online

The United States and Europe were last night deadlocked over how to tackle global warming. Ministers from 160 countries were meeting in the Dutch capital, The Hague, to try to resolve an international stand-off about how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The United States and Europe were last night deadlocked over how to tackle global warming. Ministers from 160 countries were meeting in the Dutch capital, The Hague, to try to resolve an international stand-off about how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Talks all last week between officials on completing the Kyoto protocol - the international climate change treaty - appear to have run into the ground. The principle sticking point is the attitude of the United States, the world's biggest emitter of the industrial gases such as carbon dioxide (CO 2) known to be causing the greenhouse effect.

Under the 1997 protocol, the US has agreed with other industrialised countries to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 2010, but it wants complete freedom over how to do it; in particular it wants no limit on the amount of notional emissions cuts it can obtain from other countries, without taking real action in the US economy. America is backed in this by a few other rich states, including Japan, Canada and Australia.

But the rest of the world - developing countries, and the nations of Europe, including Britain, which published its own strategy for fighting climate change on Friday - are insisting that there must be a limit, preferably 50 per cent, on how many cuts the Americans can buy outside the US. They also insist that most of its effort must go on substantive, concrete reduction measures, such as developing cars that use less petrol. The US, with 4 per cent of the world's population, produces almost 25 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases.

By the end of last week neither side was giving way and the stalemate appeared to be complete. From this morning, ministers including Britain's Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, and the Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, will spend until next weekend trying to hammer out a deal.

There is also fundamental disagreement on two more issues - the use of forests as "sinks" to soak up CO 2, and the regime of penalties for countries not meeting their legally binding Kyoto commitments on time. Britain is well on course to meet its target of a 12.5 per cent cut in six greenhouse gases by 2010.

The US, which has plenty of big forests, wants a big role for carbon sinks in the protocol, whereas Europe especially sees this as another American evasion. On Thursday evening the American proposal to include sinks was put on the table and rejected by the EU.

Tony Juniper, campaigns director of Friends of the Earth, said: "Unless the US and its supporters admit the need for action at home to cut fossil fuels, these talks will fail."

Mr Prescott acknowledged differences between Europe and the US. He said: "The Americans are not very happy at setting ceilings. They say, 'If we can achieve the targets we have set for ourselves by other means than simply domestic policies' - that's not very acceptable to Europe, of course, and that is one of the arguments that will take place, and we will have to find agreements about it."

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