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Kyoto deal hopes fade

Pro-Bush supporters
Pro-Bush supporters make their point outside the climate talks  

BONN, Germany -- Hopes of a deal being struck to salvage the Kyoto protocol at a climate summit in Bonn have been thrown into fresh turmoil.

Optimism faded with the European Union taking a firm stance in defending the protocol targets on greenhouse gas emissions.

The EU position casts further doubt on chances of success for the 1997 treaty following its rejection by U.S. President George W. Bush.

The EU pledged on Thursday to back Kyoto against proposals by Japan and three other countries to loosen controls on carbon emissions.

Gaps in negotiating positions emerged as high-level delegations from 178 countries attempted to agree a deal on reaching the treaty's goal of reducing harmful gases.

Analysis: Robin Oakley on the row over Kyoto  
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The main disagreements emerging were on how to credit countries for properly managing forests that soak up carbon from the air, and on how sternly to punish countries that fail to meet their emissions targets.

Margot Wallstrom, EU environment commissioner, warned that time was running out for the negotiators. "We are already working on overtime," she said. "We cannot afford another failure."

Four countries -- Canada, Japan, Australia and Russia -- have floated a new proposal that would give them greater credit for managing forests that absorb carbon dioxide and "sink" it into the ground.

Crediting such "sinks" would ease their requirements for reducing the amount of carbon created from such sources as industry and vehicles.

Each country would negotiate its own limit on how much credit it could receive. Setting rigid formulas applicable for everyone was "a fruitless approach," a senior Canadian official said.

Rejecting the loose system proposed by the four, the EU said it favoured "a clear and tight cap system," Olivier Deleuze, Belgian's secretary of state for the environment said.

While the EU was prepared to negotiate, any agreement must be "environmentally sound. That is the whole purpose. Otherwise, it's nonsense," said Deleuze.

The sharp divergence dispelled the mood of hope that the conference chairman, Jan Pronk, tried to infuse into the talks by saying it might be possible to reach an agreement even without the endorsement of the U.S.

Pronk, the Dutch environment minister, said the experts had cleared some of the hundreds of disputes left unresolved when the last climate conference collapsed in November, and that it was time now for politicians take tough decisions.

"It is possible to reach a result," Pronk said earlier. "My hopes are growing day by day."

But the make-or-break decisions were more likely to be made at the G8 summit in Genoa, where President George W. Bush will meet leaders from six other wealthy nations and Russia.

Japan, a G8 member, has emerged as a key player in the climate talks, saying it supports the pact which bears the name of its ancient capital, but that the accord would be worthless without U.S. participation.

With Japan's implicit threat to withdraw hanging over the Bonn conference, Japanese delegates pushed for a better deal that would relieve some of the burden of reducing industrial emissions of greenhouse gases.

"What we need to do now is come to an agreement on as wide a range of issues as possible," Japanese Environment Minister Yuriko Kawaguchi said on Germany's ARD television.

"All the countries need to be as flexible as possible to agree on the rules for implementing the Kyoto Protocol," she said.

In March, Bush said the protocol signed by President Bill Clinton and about 80 other government leaders was "fatally flawed" and bad for the U.S. economy.

Pronk said Bush's announcement derailed what he saw as real progress in the climate discussions in the previous two months.

• U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change

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