Heading for showdown

Even as the US accuses the EU of rewriting prior agreements, the later agrees on a common approach to limiting flexible mechanisms for controlling green house gas emissions

Published: Tuesday 15 June 1999

-- (Credit: rajata baran)the us has criticised the European Union ( eu ) government's decision to seek limits on carbon emissions trading under the Kyoto global climate treaty. The us accused eu saying it was rewriting prior agreements. According to eu officials, they have decided on a common approach for international talks in June on controlling emissions of greenhouse gases. At a meeting in Wiemer, Germany, diplomats from the 15 eu states finalised the bloc's negotiating position after The Netherlands, Sweden and Finland dropped their earlier position where they were leading calls for the commission's tough approach to be watered down. "We now have a declaration on which everyone can agree," an eu official told the news agency Reuters .

The December 1997 Kyoto accord on climate change allows signatory countries some flexibility in how to reach their targets for cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and five other gases widely believed to be responsible for global warming. Under the Kyoto accord, the eu has to cut its 1990 emission levels of six greenhouse gases by 8 per cent between 2008 and 2012. Cuts are shared between the 15 eu members, depending on current pollution levels and their level of industrial development. Acting eu Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard wants to limit the use of so-called "flexible mechanisms" -- such as emissions trading -- to ensure that countries meet the lion's share of their commitments by cutting their own domestic emissions.

The us, which has to ratify the treaty, wants no limits on emissions trading, which would allow companies to meet mandatory pollution cuts by buying emissions certificates from others that have made reductions beyond levels set by the treaty. The Dutch, Swedes and Finns have now agreed to a formula which guarantees that at least half of the eu 's commitments must be met by genuine domestic reductions in pollution. "It's a very complex formula," the official said. "But the bottom line is that at least 50 per cent of the reductions must be achieved through domestic action." Agreement was reached only after a last-minute protest by Denmark, which feared that overuse of flexible mechanisms would undermine the agreement, officials said. Kyoto allows for three types of flexible mechanisms, of which the best-known is trading in licences to pollute. Industrialised countries also may choose to work together to meet joint targets, under what is called "joint implementation." Lastly, industrialised nations will be given credit for assisting pollution-reducing schemes in developing countries.

The eu will now try to persuade the other Kyoto signatories to support its position when they meet in Bonn in June. Finally, the eu called upon the countries to "develop strong domestic policies and measures in order to modify long-term emission trends... production and consumption patterns. It will contribute to preparing the path for more ambitious commitments." The eu is under pressure from the us to open its markets to new strains of genetically modified seeds, but also faces growing distrust among its own consumers of foods produced using biotechnology.

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