CALGARY, Alberta - The United States will come under more pressure over its decision to abandon the Kyoto climate change accord when environment ministers from the world's leading countries meet this weekend in Canada.
The divisive topic of global warming is not officially on the agenda for the meeting of ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations, which starts on Saturday in the Rocky Mountain resort of Banff, Alberta. But the battle against greenhouse gas emissions will be discussed at an informal breakfast, and delegates are bracing for the worst at bilateral meetings with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Todd Whitman.
"I suspect in the bilaterals that they will beat us up on climate change...the reason it's off the official agenda is that they didn't want to turn it into seven against one," one U.S. source told Reuters.
The G8 - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States - is hosted by Canada this year and this is one in a series of ministerial meetings which will culminate in a June summit in Kananaskis, not far from Banff.
U.S. President George W. Bush last year abandoned Kyoto on the grounds it would hurt the U.S. economy, and Washington is now pushing an alternative plan to use voluntary incentives to get industry to reduce emissions.
Canada and others think that plan, which does not cover emissions of the crucial greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, are too weak and want them to be toughened.
But Canadian environment minister David Anderson, the point man on the Kyoto issue, has faced a firestorm of criticism, with the energy industry among those calling for a go-slow approach on ratification.
Alberta and its premier Ralph Klein have warned that tens of billions of dollars could be sucked from the oil-rich province if Canada meets its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
Anderson said experts were working on cost estimates.
"Mr. Klein's original estimate was $1 trillion. He's reduced it to less than 3 percent of his original estimate - that was over a period of a number of months. Perhaps the same process will continue in the future," Anderson said yesterday.
EUROPEANS SIGN OFF
Last month the 15-nation European Union agreed to ratify Kyoto and is working to ensure that Russia, Japan and Canada stick with the protocol while putting pressure on Washington.
"We are all seeking to work on the United States, which is the main problem area," one European diplomat told Reuters.
Ottawa originally intended to ratify Kyoto this June. But the government, split over the issue, called for more consultation among political and business leaders.
"We want them to be realistic and we cannot say at this time how long they'll take," Anderson said.
As of 1999, Canada's emissions were already 15 percent higher than the 1990 levels, suggesting a huge task to meet that goal.
Green activists are not impressed that Kyoto is not on the official G8 agenda.
"How can the G8 environment ministers, who are self-proclaimed leaders, come together and not discuss what they're going to do about climate change?" asked Greenpeace International climate change director Benedict Southworth.
Drawing attention to their campaign, Greenpeace activists yesterday placed two solar panels on the roof of Klein's southwest Calgary home and hung a banner that read: "Solar Fights Drought. Kyoto Now." Klein was not home at the time.
The G8 ministers will officially spend most of their time trying to sort out the agenda for a summit on sustainable development later this year, which is turning into another fight between green activists and the United States.
Organizers of the summit, which opens in Johannesburg in August, are having trouble defining what they want to achieve - the draft agenda is 150 pages long.
One British diplomat said the agenda was "a morass," and Anderson said serious work was needed.
(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Jones).
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