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WWF President Calls Kyoto Climate Agreement "A Historic First"

WASHINGTON, DC -- Today, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) applauded the completion of the new international accord to control greenhouse gas emissions, reached late Thursday in Japan, calling it "a critical first step in addressing the threat to nature posed by climate change." WWF also pledged its support for ratification by the U.S. Senate.

"The Kyoto climate treaty is truly a historic first step -- the first legally binding commitment to control the emissions of heat-trapping gases that threaten wildlife and habitats around the world," said Kathryn S. Fuller, president of WWF. "It deserves the full support of the conservation community and the American people. Once the agreement is signed by the President, World Wildlife Fund will put its full energy and resources behind securing ratification in the Senate."

A final text of the accord came after all-night negotiations, when delegates from more than 150 countries pledged to make significant cuts in industrial country emissions. Under the agreement, the European Union will cut its emissions by 8 percent, the U.S. by 7 percent, and Japan by 6 percent -- all cuts measured against 1990 emissions levels and to be achieved by the period 2008-2012. The result -- a midpoint compromise between Europe’s initial call for a 15 percent reduction and the U.S. proposal for stabilization--was much stronger than most observers had thought possible.

A stalemate midway through the negotiations was broken early in the week when Vice President Gore flew to Kyoto and urged compromise, with new instructions that U.S. negotiators exercise the flexibility needed to reach agreement. "The successful result at Kyoto owes much to the Vice President’s leadership on the climate issue," said Kathryn Fuller. "Without his personal intervention this week, the meeting very likely would have ended in deadlock."

The focus already has shifted to ratification of the agreement in the U.S. Senate, amid reports that the President may withhold signature until outstanding U.S. concerns can be addressed at a follow-on meeting next year. The White House had made clear that in exchange for U.S. commitments it expected developing countries to enlarge their own participation under the agreement. Congress has expressed similar sentiment. With a view that the Kyoto agreement may not be sufficiently concrete on the role of developing countries, the administration may seek additional assurances before it signs the treaty and forwards it to the Senate for ratification.

At the next climate meeting, late next year in Buenos Aires, negotiators will also address the role of emissions trading under the treaty, which has raised concerns that reductions in emissions from the former Soviet Union will generate "paper credits" that could be used to relieve the United States from implementing its own reduction measures. WWF has urged all treaty parties to use the Buenos Aires meeting to resolve the outstanding issues--by closing remaining loopholes and ensuring meaningful engagement of developing countries--so the treaty can move forward promptly, with full U.S. participation.