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Climate treaty set to be ratified

MARRAKESH, Morocco -- World environment and energy ministers have agreed on the fine print of a treaty to limit global warming, paving the way for its implementation next year.

The head of the Russian delegation to the United Nations-sponsored talks in Marrakesh said the deal reached on the legal language governing the 1997 Kyoto Pact should now make it possible for Moscow to ratify it.

"This (agreement) opens the way for ratification by all countries, including by the Russian Federation," Alexander Bedritsky told the conference, minutes after about 160 countries finalised the rules that will guide the treaty.

Since the United States controversially pulled out of the agreement to limit so-called greenhouse gases in March, ratification by Russia and Japan has become essential to make up the numbers needed to bring the pact into force.

Unlike the European Union, neither country has yet committed itself unequivocally to ratifying the pact.

Japan also indicated Tokyo could ratify the deal. "We will have our cabinet decide on this after I get back but I feel personally we have a very good package," Japanese Environment Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi told Reuters news agency.

The Kyoto Protocol committed the world's industrialised countries to cut their emissions of carbon dioxide, said to cause global warming by an average of five percent from 1990 levels by 2012.

Saturday's announcement of deal, reached after tough bargaining at the end of the two-week conference, provides a detailed rulebook governing the complex treaty.

"We have an agreement," British Environment Minister Michael Meacher said after marathon negotiations on the final day of the meeting.

"It's a remarkable day for the environment after four years of negotiations on Kyoto," he added.

"We're quite confident now that the (Kyoto) protocol is saved," said Olivier Deleuze, the European Union's chief delegate at the talks.

Eyes on Russia, Japan

The pact seemed in jeopardy last March when, after four years of tortuous negotiations on its content, the U.S., the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, pulled out of the agreement, saying it would hurt the U.S. economy.

The 15-member EU has said it will ratify Kyoto by 2002, but the treaty must be ratified by at least 55 countries responsible for 55 percent of the world's 1990 CO2 emissions before it can come into force.

"I am sure all countries will ratify, except for the United States," said Deleuze, who is also Belgium's Energy Minister.

"Those who don't ratify, that's for a political reason," he added.

The long-term aim of the treaty is to curb what U.N. scientists say is the artificial warming of the Earth's climate and its consequences: rising sea levels, melting ice caps, changing rainfall patterns, increased flooding and more frequent droughts.

After Washington's abrupt withdrawal, all eyes turned to Russia and Japan. Without them, the whole pact could collapse.

In the final hours of the conference, Australia, Japan, Russia and Canada objected to five points on how market-based mechanisms would function.

The mechanisms are designed to help countries meet their targets by buying or selling carbon credits on an international financial market, or by reducing their quota by expanding forests and farmland that soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The U.S. position weighed heavily on the meeting. At the previous conference in Germany last July, all other countries decided to press ahead with the first compulsory global accord on the environment, despite the U.S. withdrawal. But some said the absence of the United States made it virtually worthless.

A U.S. delegation was in Marrakesh and attended even the difficult negotiations in the waning hours of the conference. But the delegates refrained from participating in talks on the treaty itself, The Associated Press reported.

They were, however, involved in drafting a statement that would be sent from Marrakesh to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, next September. The U.S. aim was to limit references to climate change issues and ensure that the focus was on social, economic and other environmental issues.

U.S. President George W. Bush has said his administration is drawing up its own plan to control greenhouse gas emissions, and has announced funding for more studies and technology research.

But Washington has repeatedly delayed unveiling the plan, and the chief U.S. delegate, Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, says there is no timetable for its preparation.




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