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There are two important global stories today, but in the US, at least, one of them has been swamped. With domestic attention focused on Florida and the result (or not) of the election, little heed will be paid to the failure of the climate change talks in The Hague.

Today’s reporting has focused on who lost the deal. Was it the UK’s John Prescott, who gave too much to the Americans? Or was it France’s Dominique Voynet together with Germany’s Jurgen Trittin, who refused to see the sense of the offered compromise?

Prescott is a bit of a figure of fun in the UK government, since he doesn’t have the smooth presentational skills favoured these days. He tends to mangle most sentences he gets a hold of, and had the poor political sense to be dubbed “Two Jags” Prescott (reference to his chauffered cars), which doesn’t exactly fit with an environmentally minded image.

But in the case of The Hague, Prescott did the right thing. He understood that he was dealing with the art of the possible, rather than ineffective idealism. He delivered important concessions from the US, Canada and Japan, only to find Europe’s Greens more interested in principle than concrete results.

Let’s hope the other Europeans see sense in time for the next round of talks. But they may not find a George W Bush administration willing to make the concessions of Frank Loy’s team from the Clinton administration. The propitious moment may well have passed on one of the crucial issues facing all of humanity.

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