Sweet hostage

Dutch minister Jan Pronk pays obeisance to the choleric demands of the US Senate

Published: Friday 30 June 2000

The G77 group of developing countries and the European Union ( eu ) have shared a blow-hot, blow-cold relationship in the international climate negotiations. There have been times when they have worked in tandem against the us and its allies ('rogue' countries in the climate context, to borrow a term from us diplomacy). And there have been other times that the eu has gone the us way, looking out for national business interests rather than a climate regime that will actually reduce chances of global warming.

On the whole, however, the G77 has viewed the EU more as an ally than opponent in these negotiations. Which is why the recent statement by Dutch minister for environment, Jan Pronk, comes as a surprise. Pronk, who will act as host and president for the crucial sixth conference of parties (CoP-6) in November 2000, is reported to have said recently that his intention at CoP-6 would be to make the Kyoto Protocol ratifiable for the us .

If Pronk is serious about this intention, he will have to first deliver two sacrificial goats demanded by the us Senate before it even considers ratifying the protocol -- the participation of key developing countries and North-South emissions trading under the Clean Development Mechanism ( cdm ). The first is for no better reason than to make the Americans feel secure about the future of their business. The second is to subsidise them at the cost of the poor for the damage they are doing to the Earth's atmosphere (see: Wooing the opposition , p14). Even if Pronk is able to deliver these two conditions, there is still no guarantee that the us will ratify the protocol.

On his part, Pronk has already called on 'tiger' developing countries to take on commitments, with discussions on the issue to start at CoP-6. Surely, not again? For two important climate meetings in the past, attention has been diverted from industrialised country commitments by the demand for developing country participation. The first was in 1995 at Berlin, when the Germans led the call for developing country participation. Then at the 1997 Kyoto meeting, the New Zealand delegation made a similar demand. This occupied centrestage for days, much to the delight of the us and its allies, seeking any sort of diversion from discussions on their own timetable for greenhouse gas reductions.

From the looks of it, the issue of developing country participation will once again be called on to play the role of diversionary shield at CoP-6. No matter how unfair, why let go of a tactic if it has worked before.

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