Group of Eight (G8) environment ministers struggled here Saturday to find a face-saving compromise over the Kyoto Protocol, the UN treaty on global warming that is caught in crossfire between the United States and Europe.
Ministers were trying to draw up a communiqué that would somehow balance European demands for an unshakable commitment to Kyoto and insistence by the new US administration that it is not automatically bound to the policies of the Clinton era.
Italian Environment Minister Willer Bordon admitted after the start of the meeting late Friday that he could not predict which way the tussle would go.
But he pleaded for understanding for the US representative, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Christie Whitman, who has stepped into the most bloodily-contested arena in environmental politics.
"We shouldn't forget that there is a new US administration... they need time to assess and devise their policy" on global warming, he said.
With the future of Kyoto hanging in the balance, environment groups have been anxiously looking to the three-day Trieste meeting for signs that the protocol can be saved.
While on the campaign stump, President George W. Bush said he opposed Kyoto, apparently reflecting the view of many American conservatives that the global warming crisis has been exaggerated by Greens.
But since his election, a flurry of new scientific data has confirmed that the Earth's atmosphere is warming quickly as a result of burning fossil fuels, helping to spur a change in American opinion.
Whitman, meeting here Friday with global warming activists, industry and trade union representatives, impressed those present with her insistence that Washington took global warming seriously.
But she sidestepped any reference to Kyoto, making it clear that Washington was keeping all its options open for the time being.
Talks to complete the 1997 "framework" agreement resume in Bonn in July, eight months after negotiations fell apart in The Hague.
Other agenda items in Trieste were an assessment of sustainable development, another gospel in the environmental movement.
The ministers' communique was also expected to make a reference to concern about depleted uranium shells in the Balkans, expressing interest in the outcome of studies to determine whether these weapons are dangerous for the environment.
Streets around the conference venue, a historic palace in a harbour-front square in this Adriatic city, were barricaded off by hundreds of police, amid rumours that anti-globalisation protestors, coordinated via the Internet, might rally this weekend.
Scientists paint global warming as the biggest environmental peril in human history.
Carbon dioxide levels in the lower atmosphere, disgorged by burning oil, gas and coal, are at their highest levels in more than 400,000 years, according a new report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The panel predicts a mean global temperature rise of up to 5.8 C. (10.4 F) by 2100. An increase of that scale would be enough to change weather patterns around the world, threatening crops and habitation, it says.
The G8 comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States -- TRIESTE, Italy (AFP)
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