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United Nations Convention


These talked which aimed to avert the threat of global warming collapsed as deep divisions were exposed between the United States and Europe.


European ministers had expressed concern about allowing the US and its supporters, such as Canada, to offset emissions from cars, factories and power stations against carbon absorbed by forests and farmland.  The issue of US ‘sinks’, of soaking up carbon using forests and farmland, in the end proved too much for ministers in Europe.


The US insisted that its forests, which are well-managed and fertilised to grow faster, were absorbing 300 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere. Farmlands were also soaking up more than 20 million tonnes.  The US, which agreed at the Kyoto summit in 1997 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 per cent by 2010, insisted that it should be allowed to meet its reductions entirely abroad. This proposal involves the “purchase” of reductions in greenhouse gases in former Soviet Bloc countries, which have occurred since 1990 with the collapse of their economies. The US wished to buy these reductions to offset their own.


The American economy has grown under the Clinton Administration and emissions of greenhouse gases are expected to increase by 28 per cent by 2010. Frank Loy, the chief American negotiator at the talks, said that the US would need to cut gas emissions by 35 per cent in ten years when the 7 per cent cutback was also considered.  The US made several concessions. It said that it would seek only 100 million tonnes of “carbon credits” from forests and appeared to accept that 50 million tonnes would be enough.


America has, for years, insisted that it had the right to meet its emission cutbacks entirely abroad if it wanted to.  These primarily centred on so-called “hot air”. These are the reductions in greenhouse gases which occurred since 1990 in the former Soviet Bloc with the collapse of their economies. America wished to buy these reductions to offset their own rising emissions.


Planting forests in the developing world, which is cheap, was also part of the US emission reduction plan.


The countries have agreed to meet in Bonn in May 2000 and in Marrakesh later in 2000.




E-mail Steve Margetts