NUSA DUA, Indonesia (AFP) — Japan and Canada appear to be backing away from mandatory emissions cuts expected to be at the heart of a new global accord on fighting global warming, environmental groups said Wednesday.
The charge was levelled as nearly 190 nations met in the Indonesian resort of Bali, looking to take the first steps toward a new agreement to combat climate change when the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012.
Organisers said the key climate talks were on track to hammer out a new roadmap toward tackling global warming, but activists said that the thorny issue of greenhouse gas emissions cuts must be addressed as soon as possible.
Green groups said Japan had revived the idea of pledges to reduce gases blamed for raising the world's temperature, rather than committing to mandatory targets under the future agreement, which is currently the case under Kyoto.
"Emissions reduction targets are the heart of the Kyoto Protocol," youth activists from the Climate Action Network said in a statement. "Japan's proposal would kill it."
Japan quickly rejected the criticisms, and a government spokesperson in Tokyo insisted they were committed to curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
"To say that Japan isn't enthusiastic is off the mark," Nobutaka Machimura told reporters.
Angela Ledford Anderson of the US-based National Environment Trust said Canada had meanwhile caused concern by hinting that if emissions pledges are made, all nations would have to sign up to them.
Green groups stress that as the industrialised world has been historically responsible for climate change, they should shoulder the majority of the burden -- and that it would be unfair to make poorer nations pay too much.
"There is a little concern about the positioning of Japan and Canada. Their proposals are really not building on the strengths of the Kyoto Protocol," Anderson told AFP.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last month that the 1997 Kyoto Protocol failed because it did not impose binding cuts on major emitters such as China and India.
The United States -- currently the only industrialised nation not to have ratified the Kyoto Protocol -- has rejected mandatory emissions cuts, advocating voluntary targets instead.
Activists say that so far, the United States has kept a relatively low profile at the talks, but Anderson said she thought Japan's emerging stance may be an attempt to win over the US and bring them on board any new agreement.
The European Union backs mandatory targets for wealthy countries, and on Tuesday repeated a previous pledge that they would commit to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020 if the rich world follows suit.
Stephan Singer, head of the climate unit with environmental group WWF, said they were also "very concerned" about Japan's initial statements.
He said it was unclear if Tokyo was still intending to stick to a pledge made in Vienna in August, where Kyoto Protocol parties agreed to recognise the need for industrialised countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent to 40 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.
"We want this to be part of the formal negotiations" when environment ministers arrive later in the conference, which ends December 14, he said.
Singer said they were also seeking clarity on Australia's position.
In his first official act after being sworn in as Australia's leader following elections last month, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ratified the Kyoto Protocol on Monday, further isolating the United States.
However, activists said that Australia had still not stated whether or not they will throw their weight behind emissions cut targets for 2020.
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said Wednesday that there were many different views on how the talks should proceed, but he said discussions were on track.
"No one is dragging their feet," he told reporters.
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