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Europeans call U.S. vital to meaningful climate pact

Nations seeking accord on financing clean-air projects

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BONN, Germany — With Washington maintaining that it has no plans to rejoin the Kyoto Protocol, European delegates said today that any meaningful treaty on climate change can be effective only if the Americans come back on board.

The United States, the world's largest emitter of so-called greenhouse gases, rejected the 1997 treaty in March, saying it would harm the American economy.

Even so, the United States was among 178 nations that sent top officials and environmental ministers here for talks aimed at rescuing the foundering treaty by devising implementation rules to bring it into force.

The talks were at a critical phase today, with agreement needed on key issues including financing of clean-air projects in poorer countries and schemes to credit nations for forest management.

"We have no time to lose. It is a matter of political will, a matter of giving and taking in the remaining days," said EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom.

Olivier Deleuze, Belgian's secretary of state for the environment, said the first goal is to reach a deal — but that in the longer-term the European Union wants to bring the United States back into the treaty. It was not yet clear how that would be achieved.

"We are in a rescue operation of the Kyoto process," Wallstrom said. "We are so occupied with trying to do that we have no plans on how to bring the Americans back on board."

Washington has stated firmly that its position will not change, and is in the process of drafting its own plan for halting global warming. The plan, however, was not prepared in time for the Bonn conference and the Bush administration has not committed to a deadline.

"There is a recognition of the keen interest which many countries have in better understanding what direction the United States will be going in on climate change," Paula Dobriansky, the head of the U.S. delegation, said in an interview Friday.

The United States, though it has rejected the pact, was participating in the negotiations to ensure U.S. interests are not threatened.

"While we do not believe the Kyoto Protocol is sound public policy for the United States, we do not intend to prevent others from going ahead with the treaty, so long as they do not harm legitimate U.S. interests," Dobriansky said at the ceremonial opening of high-level talks Thursday.

The Americans, reluctant to help pay for an accord they will not join, are monitoring a proposed $1 billion annual fund to help the Third World adapt to new technologies.

Under a formula proposed by Jan Pronk, the conference chairman, the United States would be obligated to pay nearly 40 percent of the total based on its 1990 emissions levels.

But Pronk said Thursday it was unlikely that countries which do not join the protocol will be obliged to pay.

An American environmentalist, David Doniger, said the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty created a renewed urgency to come up with funds to help meet the treaty's ambitious goal of reducing worldwide emissions by 5.2 percent of 1990 levels by 2012.

To go into force, the treaty needs the backing of 55 countries, representing 55 percent of the industrialized world's emissions. Environment ministers and top government officials are negotiating how to implement the emissions cuts acceptable enough to bring the Kyoto accord into force by next year.

As the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the United States would have been under pressure to come up with ways to meet its target reductions. One way envisioned under the protocol is for industry to invest in new technology in the developing world — for which it receives credit for emission reductions.

But the U.S. withdrawal means a virtual collapse in that trade — leaving the other industrialized nations to pick up the slack, Doniger said.

"It's worth remembering if they hadn't dropped out there would be a real flow" of investment to developing nations, Doniger said.

The U.S. withdrawal has galvanized European nations in efforts to save the treaty, and prompted concern over how to come up with the money to pay for it.

"I don't see any environment minister wanting to go back to his country and say I want to raise the budget to pay because one very rich country withdrew," Deleuze said.