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Nations in standoff over issues at global warming conference
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (Reuters) -- Delegates at a U.N. climate change conference deadlocked Tuesday over commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as industrial nations sparred with one another and developing countries complained of being ignored.
The primary issues of dispute remained unresolved with three days remaining before the conference concludes. And the final agreement draft was weakened by hundreds of clauses or phrases isolated in brackets signifying disagreement, delegates said.
The conference is to set the rules for countries to meet targets laid down in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases, primarily carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, by 5.2 percent from 1990 levels. The time frame from achieving the goal is 2008-2012.
After a night of deliberation, the European Union rejected a U.S. proposal to credit countries for maintaining forests and farmland that absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Such areas are known as "sinks." The credits would be used to offset their emissions reduction quota.
U.S. delegates had portrayed the proposal as a concession, saying they were prepared to take credits for less than the full amount of carbon that forests actually soak up.
Europe nips U.S. forest sinks
"Having examined the data by our experts, we feel the U.S. proposal cannot be seen as a compromise position," said French environment minister Dominique Voynet.
U.S. delegation chief Frank Loy responded that other delegations were being less than forthcoming in the negotiations.
"The United States has demonstrated real flexibility across a range of issues," he said in a speech to the plenary. "We stand ready to make reasonable compromises. We are waiting for others to do so as well. And time is growing short."
The U.S. delegation was working within confined limits, knowing that a skeptical Congress in Washington needs to endorse any agreement.
Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas who is close to Gov. George W. Bush, said if Bush wins the presidency, Barton would recommend that the United States abandon the Kyoto agreement and begin negotiations to leave economies unfettered by environmental constraints.
"What you are seeing here is an exercise in futility in the worst case, or an exercise in fantasy in the best case, and nothing I have seen this week is going to be voted on in a positive way," Barton said.
Group of 77 wants relief
The developing countries, meanwhile, showed their impatience over the focus on issues of the rich nations in the conference, in its second and final week. The so-called Group of 77 is demanding a detailed program for industrialized nations to transfer clean energy technologies and extra funds for them to adapt to climate changes.
The group now numbers 134 countries and commands enough votes to quash a final agreement.
Nigerian delegate Sani Zangon Daura angrily confronted the conference chairman, Jan Pronk, about the exclusion of poor countries from delegation leaders who meet daily to fix the agenda and set the pace of the convention.
"Consultations must not be converted into negotiations that involve only a select number of parties," he told Pronk.
Nukes heat up the debate
In other conference developments, the head of the U.N. Environment Program blasted proposals to include nuclear energy options as a means to slow global warming.
"I'm utterly convinced that it should not be included in any type of (agreement)," the U.N.'s Klaus Toepfer told reporters.
The nuclear power industry has argued that nuclear reactors are clean and produce no carbon dioxide. But environmentalists have attacked that stance and point to the longer-term problems of nuclear waste and safety.
The United States and Japan have said they would back plans allowing them to fund nuclear projects in developing countries to reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide.
Scientists say the Earth's temperature could rise by up to 6 degrees Centigrade (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, with devastating consequences on the environment and human life.
The U.N. weather agency said Tuesday that deaths from heat waves in big cities worldwide are expected to double over the next 20 years if global warming is not curbed.
"Heat waves are expected to become a major killer," World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Godwin Obasi said.
Small increases in global temperatures due to growing amounts of greenhouse gases are amplified in big cities, he told reporters in The Hague.
Copyright 2000 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.
Pivotal world conference on climate change gets under way
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
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