The Heat Is Online

Climate Talks End; Future In Question

Kyoto Hangs on Russia as UN Climate Talks End
Reuters News Service
, Dec. 12, 2003

MILAN, Italy (Reuters) - A U.N. conference on curbing global warming ended Friday with scant progress after 12 days of wrangling about the fine print of the Kyoto global warming protocol, which will collapse if Russia says "No."

The 180-nation talks agreed on details of the 1997 U.N. protocol Friday, including a fund to help poor nations adapt to climate change. Earlier in the week, it also set rules for planting forests to soak up gases blamed for climate change.

But overall progress in fighting global warming -- said by many ministers at the talks to be the biggest long-term threat to humanity -- was slim. The head of the talks likened the slow pace of Kyoto to the centuries needed to build a cathedral.

"The building is not perfect, and big parts of the roof are still missing," Hungarian Environment Minister Miklos Persanyi, who presided at the marathon talks, told the closing session. "But construction is still going on."

Helped by the decisions made in Milan, Kyoto is ready to start working. But the fate of the entire project hinges on Moscow, which has pulled back from promises to ratify it soon.

President Bush withdrew the United States, the world's biggest polluter, from Kyoto in 2001, saying the accord was too costly and wrongly excluded developing nations. Russia is deciding whether to side with its main trading partners in Europe, Kyoto's main backers, or Washington.

Expectations had been so low that ministers agreed weeks ago not even to issue a final statement. Kyoto backers insisted that 12 days of grueling talks about details showed that Kyoto was still alive. "Kyoto is the only game in town," Persanyi said.

Kyoto aims to cut emissions of gases from factories and cars that scientists blame for trapping heat in the atmosphere, pushing up temperatures and causing more floods, droughts and typhoons, and melting glaciers that could push up sea levels.

Most nations are lagging targets under Kyoto, which demands a 5.2 percent cut in rich countries' emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, below 1990 levels by 2008-12.

WHAT NEXT?

With the fate of Kyoto unclear, there was little discussion about what to do after the accord runs out in 2012.

Delegates agreed Friday to set up a fund to help poor countries adapt to higher temperatures but shelved the thorniest issue of whether cash could go also to help OPEC states if consumers shift from oil to wind or solar power.

Donors say the fund, likely to total about $50 million a year, would be immediately bankrupt if it aided OPEC. Nations led by the European Union have promised about $410 million extra a year from 2005 via various funds linked to Kyoto.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told Japanese media Friday that Moscow was preparing a "special action plan" to ratify the accord. He gave no deadline.

Still, pro-Kyoto delegates welcomed the remarks after conflicting signals from Moscow about whether it would ratify.

The Kyoto accord will collapse because it needs backing by nations accounting for 55 percent of emissions of carbon dioxide to start. So far, it has reached 44 percent and needs Russia's 17 percent to reach the target after the United States withdrew its 36 percent share.

Delegates agreed that the next U.N. climate conference would be held in Argentina in a year's time.

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