Supporters of a treaty to reduce global warming said Wednesday that they are increasingly optimistic about rescuing the pact despite a U.S. rejection, noting that the rest of the world wants success at make-or-break negotiations that begin here today.
Prospects for hammering out the last details of the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to limit emissions of heat-trapping "greenhouse gases," appeared dim before behind-the-scenes discussions got underway this week under the auspices of the U.N. Convention on Climate Change. Japan had expressed sympathy with President Bush's decision to abandon the treaty.
However, Japanese delegates here have renewed their commitment to the accord, summit leaders reported with relief.
"My hopes are growing day by day" about the 1997 pact getting put into final treaty form during this two-week session, said summit chief Jan Pronk, the Dutch environment minister.
While Pronk lamented the Bush administration's decision in March to withdraw from the treaty, he said U.S. delegates observing the talks here have been behaving "constructively."
Environmental organizations agreed with Pronk that the United States is now isolated in what many delegates call its refusal to make sacrifices for the sake of the planet.
"It's better to have a protocol without the U.S. than to have no protocol at all," Bill Hare of Greenpeace, an environmental group, told reporters.
The Kyoto accord sets out specific targets for each country that signs on, with a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2% from 1990 levels by 2012. The intricate details of those obligations are to be drafted into treaty form at this session and possibly fine-tuned at an October meeting in Morocco.
The protocol would then be ready for submission to national parliaments for ratification. It would go into force if it is endorsed by at least 55 countries that together account for at least 55% of the industrialized world's greenhouse gas emissions.
The United States emits slightly more than 36% of the greenhouse gases produced by the industrialized world, and Bush has refused to submit the accord to a vote in Congress. Thus, other big polluters--such as the European Union, Australia, Canada and Japan--hold the power to kill the treaty if they follow the U.S. retreat.
But the 15-nation EU, thesecond-biggest emitter after the United States, last month vowed to see the Kyoto accord ratified by the end of this year. Australia and Canada are thought to be morally committed to the pact, despite attempts to win considerations for their "carbon sinks"--huge swaths of forest that are believed to absorb carbon dioxide, reducing the harmful effects of emissions.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi shocked treaty supporters last week when he appeared to endorse Bush's concerns about shortcomings of the protocol, which the U.S. president has called "fatally flawed." But Koizumi told German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in a telephone call Tuesday that Japan remains committed to achieving success at the talks here, German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin told journalists.
Japanese Environment Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi also told reporters here that her country will "do its utmost" to ensure that the only working plan for combating global warming doesn't come unraveled.
Japan is likely to side with the Europeans in the end because it will realize that the delegation sent by Bush has no alternative to the Kyoto accord, said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, a Washington-based environmental group.
"When the Bush administration finally makes it clear to the Japanese that there is no binding treaty in which it will participate, the Japanese will then have to choose between no treaty at all or Kyoto, and they will chose Kyoto," Clapp said.
The Japanese will come down in favor, Clapp insisted, because they "have enormous domestic pride in the Kyoto process," named after the city where they hosted the gathering that produced the accord.
Although the White House has made unmistakably clear that it has no intention of reconsidering the Kyoto Protocol, many here point to the political costs Bush could pay if he maintains a do-nothing approach to climate change.
"I have learned that the political positions of a politician are never final," Pronk said, noting that midterm U.S. congressional elections will be held next year and environmental issues are of growing concern to American voters, according to recent polls.
However, David Doniger, climate policy director of the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council, complained that "there is still no sign the Bush people are approaching this as if there was a tomorrow."