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Ministers' Agreement on Kyoto: 'Geopolitical Earthquake'

BONN, Germany - The decision by industrialized countries to proceed towards ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change in spite of opposition by the United States sends a strong signal to both governments and industry that they must begin investing now in measures to reduce the carbon pollution that causes global warming, World Wildlife Fund said Monday.

"The agreement reached today is a geopolitical earthquake," said Jennifer Morgan, director of WWF's Climate Change Campaign. "Other countries have demonstrated their independence from the Bush Administration on the world's most critical environmental problem. They now need to follow up with the rapid ratification of the protocol.

"Today's decision rejects the Bush Administration's assertion that climate science is flawed and that the costs of implementing the Kyoto Protocol would be unacceptably high," Morgan added. "It also sends an unambiguous signal to business and industry to begin investing in measures that cut carbon pollution."

While the deal is weaker than WWF had hoped, it provides sound architecture for the protocol, and will put carbon dioxide emissions from industrialized countries on a downward trend. It sets rules for the use of mechanisms such as emissions trading and the Clean Development Mechanism, and includes a funding package to assist developing countries in adapting to the inevitable impacts of climate change. The proposal also includes a limited amount of "sinks" that absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Although the compliance provisions could have been stronger, WWF believes the architecture provides a sound basis for the climate regime.

In the final days of negotiations, the European Union and the G77 group of developing nations drew closer in their positions and became the driving force behind securing the deal. While Japan professed support for the Kyoto treaty coming into force by 2002, its negotiators won a number of concessions, particularly on sinks. In the end, the desire by most counties to avoid a politically damaging repeat of last November's stalled climate summit in The Hague overcame most other objections, notably from Canada, Australia, and Russia.

"In reaching today's agreement, governments have finally started to listen to their citizens who have been clamoring for action on global warming," said Morgan. "This is a major advance, for both humanity and the ecosystems and biodiversity threatened by a warming world."

Technical experts will now spend the final week of the climate summit translating the delegates' political agreement into legal text.