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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood in Bonn, Germany where there are signs of progress at the global warming treaty talks. These negotiations stem from the UN Framework Convention to fight Global Warming, which the U.S. and other nations ratified almost a decade ago. That treaty failed to stem the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, largely because it has no penalties for violations. The Kyoto protocol is an attempt to put teeth into the agreement, but efforts to work out the final language since its adoption in 1997 have stalled. The protocol almost died last year at The Hague. The problem: nations are still balking at strict limits and enforcement mechanisms. And when U.S. President George W. Bush announced this spring that he was against the Kyoto protocol, it seemed all but dead. But it's not, for at least right now. To bring us up to date on the course of this conference in Bonn, we go to Living on Earth's Diane Toomey.
TOOMEY: Climate conference chair Jan Pronk in his first meeting with the press here said that following the Hague disaster he had become much more optimistic that a deal was possible in Bonn. Then he caught himself.
PRONK: But please let me not raise expectations too high. Otherwise I am getting carried away, and we shouldn't do that. And perhaps for that reason it would be better to stop.
TOOMEY: Overshadowing the initial stage of the talks was the "will it, won't it" question surrounding Japan. After weeks of conflicting statements regarding that country's willingness to ratify the treaty without U.S. involvement, the Japanese environment minister clarified her country's position. But just barely.
JAPANESE MINISTER: It is important that the U.S. participates. It is the best scenario. And also it is important that we do not spend too much time waiting for the U.S. to come in. Both are very important.
TOOMEY: But soon after that all eyes turned to the issue of carbon sinks, which torpedoed the last round of climate change talks. At The Hague the US wanted large areas of forests and agricultural lands to count against its greenhouse gas reductions, since these areas soak up CO2. Critics say sink credits alleviate a country's need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now with the U.S. out of the picture, Japan, Australia, Russia and especially Canada took up the cause of sinks. Canadian delegate Noreen Smith.
SMITH: It is at its heart simply proposing that countries that wish to exercise the option of negotiating or receiving credit for the comprehensive management of their forest resources simply negotiate what that forest management credit would be.
TOOMEY: The European Union countered, saying the proposal would allow countries to set up their own credit limits for sinks. Other EU descriptions of the proposal included "unscientific," and "Pandora's box." It was time for a prayer.
DEMONSTRATORS: Water on the earth, sunlight in the spirits, hands and blind eyes continue to touch us. (Voices continue under)
TOOMEY: As religious demonstrators called for divine intervention, an eleventh-hour compromise package from President Jan Pronk was being circulated. It gave Japan and Canada their way on the issue of sinks, but also called for penalties, should a country fall short of its emissions targets. The issue of binding targets had also been in dispute along the same fault lines as the sinks controversy. Earlier the European Union had objected to provisions in the package, but as German Environment minister Juergen Trittin put it, time was running out.
Trittin: The European Union is convinced that this proposal is a hard, for us a hard compromise. But under these circumstances, it is acceptable and it should be approved by all other parties. The adoption of this proposal leads to a regime that is legally binding under international law that would bring about real reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
TOOMEY: To what extent other nations will sign off on the compromise won't be clear until later this week. But when the conference wraps up on Friday, it is likely that something will be agreed upon, even if it is just to meet again. For Living on Earth I'm Diane Toomey in Bonn, Germany.