With an international pact to fight global warming suddenly said to be within reach, environmentalists and politicians Saturday praised the power of solidarity in their efforts to reduce so-called greenhouse gases--even if the biggest producer, the United States, won't.
Delegates and observers acknowledged that a deal to rescue the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which would apportion emission reductions to industrialized nations, is still far from guaranteed. But there was a watershed change in atmosphere at the U.N. Convention on Climate Change here after negotiators reported major advances toward resolving the most divisive issues.
"There is progress, and a deal might be in the making," said a suddenly confident conference chairman, Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk. He said four "facilitators" he had appointed to twist arms informed him that significant compromises had been reached and that a deal appeared likely despite the U.S. decision not to participate.
In fact, optimism stems from the end run that the climate accord reportedly makes around the United States' refusal to take on additional costs in the effort to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% from 1990 levels by 2012.
The agreement is being written to provide for voluntary contributions by the United States to a $1-billion annual fund to help developing countries expand their industrial base without adding further pollutants.
Environmental activist David Doniger said those writing the rule book for the campaign against global warming appear intent on removing every possible pretext for the U.S. chief delegate, Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, to block it.
"They're trying not to poke the U.S. in the eye so as to leave space for a change of heart and an opportunity to come back in," said Doniger, of the National Resources Defense Council.
Belgian envoy Olivier Deleuze confirmed that the delegates hope to eventually lure Washington back into the fold. "It is not a long-term strategy to have an agreement on climate control without the main emitter of greenhouse gases," he said.
Despite the prospect of a smaller fund for the developing nations, representatives of such nations taking part here signaled that they would rather have a less generous agreement than no agreement at all.
Since President Bush announced in March that he was withdrawing from the pact because it was "fatally flawed" and would cost too much, other states--in particular the 15-nation European Union--have pressed on to turn the agreement signed by more than 80 countries into a legally binding treaty.
The protocol, which was reached in Japan and sets strict limits on emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming, will take effect next year if at least 55 countries accountable for 55% or more of developed nations' emissions ratify it.
Although agreement on all key issues is expected here by Monday, those drafting the treaty will have one final chance for tinkering with it at the next session of the climate convention in Marrakech, Morocco, in October.
Environmental lobbyists who arrived here last week with low expectations were almost gleeful Saturday at the prospect of finishing the treaty text despite the lack of cooperation by the United States.
They credited EU politicians with spearheading the effort.
"President Bush keeps saying the Cold War is over, yet he keeps acting as if the only countries that matter are the United States and Russia and the rest of the world can just be ignored," said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, based in Washington. "That's not the approach to our allies and developing countries that is going to win respect anymore. I think the European Union has shown a huge amount of leadership growth in this process and it is clear that if the United States won't lead in a collegial fashion, Europe can and will."
Eileen Claussen, head of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, saw a message to the White House embedded in the united front being shown by the conference delegates--minus one.
"I think the administration felt that if it said no, everyone would be quite relieved because they really weren't supportive of Kyoto either," she said. "But 180 countries have been working on this for a number of years, and I think they, quite honestly, didn't want to be told that it was not acceptable and they had to go back to the beginning."