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Kyoto Climate Talks Live On Under New Proposal

Washington, DC - A new proposal offers some hope that governments may be able to break the current deadlock in international negotiations on climate change, according to World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The proposal by Jan Pronk, the President of the UN climate negotiations, represents an attempt to bring countries together under a plan similar to one that was circulating behind the scenes when negotiating time ran out at last November's climate summit in The Hague.

"While WWF still has concerns about this proposal, it is clearly the best deal the U.S. is going to get," said Jennifer Morgan, Director of WWF's Climate Change Campaign. "In fact, it is in America's economic and national interest to constructively engage in this proposal. At the very least, the U.S. should not obstruct the rest of the world from moving forward."

Most contentious in The Hague was the issue of "sinks" - counting on agriculture and forests to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. According to WWF's calculations, the effect of including sinks under the new Pronk proposal would convert the Kyoto target of a 5.2 per cent reduction in industrialized nations' carbon emissions into the need for an effective 2.7per cent cut in the 1990 level of emissions by 2012.

The United States, Canada, Australia and Japan want to exploit sinks to avoid having to reduce carbon emissions from cars and power plants. The US would be the main beneficiary from sinks provisions in Pronk's new plan, accumulating more than half of the sinks credits available to industrialized nations. The US would then need to achieve a 2.8 per cent reduction in emissions instead of its current commitment of a 7 per cent cut. Australia, Russia and Canada would also receive more generous pollution allowances, as would to lesser extent, Japan. However, the credit available from sinks activities would be slightly higher, as the plan also allows credit for sinks projects in developing countries. The overall amount of sinks' credits a country can count, however, has a fixed cap.

Representatives of 41 governments plan to meet Pronk for informal consultations in New York April 20-21. "This paper provides further evidence that the world is moving forward on the basis of the Kyoto Protocol despite comments by the Bush Administration," said Morgan.

WWF wants governments to agree on a means for preventing countries from claiming credit under the Kyoto treaty for activities they would have undertaken anyway. WWF also opposes proposals that, while claiming to reduce carbon emissions, would give governments incentives to cut native forests. In addition, with afforestation and reforestation included under the Clean Development Mechanism, WWF is concerned that this could provide a dangerous incentive to set up large new forest plantations in developing countries at the expense of protecting natural forests.

Also absent from Pronk's proposals is a "cap" on the use of Kyoto's so-called "flexible mechanisms" of emissions trading, joint implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism. This has been a central plank of the European Union's stance that domestic action should take priority over buying and selling emissions and to emission reduction projects abroad. WWF's concern is that, given the inflated targets that countries such as Russia have allotted themselves, the unlimited use of emissions trading would be a way for countries to mask increases in real emissions behind paper transactions.

The climate negotiations will continue in Bonn in July. "The big question is, will this treaty meet the needs of the environment? We hope to see the final answers in Bonn when world environmental leaders meet to finalize the Kyoto Protocol," added Morgan.

Read the WWF Analysis (PDF format)