Details of Kyoto Environment Accord Unclear

BONN, Germany -- Environmental ministers from around the world declared their determination Thursday to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, but made no concrete decisions on how to achieve the reductions to help combat global warming.

German Environment Minister J?rgen Trittin said despite reservations by the United States and objections by Saudi Arabia and other key oil exporters, the majority of countries at a UN climate change conference wanted a 1997 agreement in Kyoto, Japan on reducing emissions of gases to take effect by 2002.

"For those who want to delay the Kyoto protocol entering into force, we say to you: You can stay out of this process if you want, but you can no longer stop it," Trittin told journalists.

U.S. chief delegate Frank Loy said progress had been made toward the country's key goals: securing greater involvement from developing countries like China and ensuring that measures to cut emissions are cost effective.

"We think we're on the right track but we have to keep going," Loy said. He stressed Washington's commitment to combating climate change.

Environmental groups were generally upbeat, but said much more needed to be done. The World Wide Fund for Nature warned that away from the political declarations of ministers, some lower-level negotiators were working to widen technical loopholes in the climate accord. Greenpeace demanded that governments end subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

Most scientists agree that greenhouse gases - from burning coal or car exhausts, for instance - are to blame for the warming of the earth's surface and say 1998 was the warmest year on record. They fear a dangerous rise in sea levels and flooding in coastal areas, coupled with devastating drought in dry areas and disruption of fragile ecosystems.

Delegates from some 150 nations at the Bonn meeting tried to hammer out a text for a summit in the Netherlands next November on how to implement the 1997 Kyoto protocol. This sets specific targets for industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

No agreement was reached on anti-cheating measures or on the issue of emissions trading, which would allow industrialized nations to "buy" credits from others to achieve their target to cut greenhouse gases. Washington rejects European Union demands for a 50 percent limit on the contribution of trading to emissions cuts.

The United States, Australia and Canada continued to reject any deadline for ratification. To the surprise of environmentalists, Japan and New Zealand followed the EU's political lead in agreeing the Kyoto deal should enter into force by 2002.

The Republican-dominated U.S. Congress objects to the Kyoto deal, arguing it imposes no obligations on developing nations and would be too costly for Americans.

Katherine Silverthorne of the U.S. Climate Action Network claimed that Congress was dominated by oil and coal interests.

"Don't let the U.S. fossil-fuel industry and its domination of Congress hold the rest of the world up and delay this process any longer," she said.

For the targets to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to become international law, the Kyoto accord has to be ratified by industrialized countries responsible for 55 percent of the developed world's emissions in 1990. That would be difficult - but just about achievable - without the United States on board.

The head of the European Commission's environment division said he was confident Washington would ratify the accord as politicians followed the lead set by a growing number of U.S. industries that realize they must compete in new technologies in order to survive.