US Wants to Join Climate Negotiations, Despite Resistance to Emissions Cuts

December 5, 2007

U.S. delegates at the U.N. climate conference insist they will not be a roadblock to a new international agreement aimed at reducing potentially catastrophic greenhouse gases, but refuse to endorse mandatory emissions cuts.

Many governmental delegations at the meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali see mandatory cuts as crucial for reining in rising temperatures.

Faced with melting polar ice and worsening droughts, delegates from nearly 190 nations opened the two-week conference with pleas for a new climate pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. That deal required the 36 signatories to cut emissions by 5 percent.

A key goal of the conference will be to draw in a skeptical United States, now the sole industrial power that has refused to rafity the Kyoto Protocol, citing fears it would hurt the U.S. economy because cuts aren’t required of rising economies like those in China and India.

“We’re not here to be a roadblock,” Harlan L. Watson, a top U.S. climate negotiator, told reporters. “We’re committed to a successful conclusion, and we’re going to work very constructively to make that happen.”

The Americans, however, were forced to repeatedly defend their refusal to embrace emission caps after Australia’s new prime minister signed papers Monday to ratify the 1997 Kyoto agreement – reversing the decision of his nation’s previous, conservative government.

Delegates in Bali erupted in applause when Australia’s representative, Howard Bamsey, told the session that his country was jumping on board.

Still, the United Nations acknowledged no pact can be effective without the Americans, and the European Union said it expected the U.S. delegation to play a constructive role in the days to come.

“There is no doubt that the U.S. has to play a key role in the post-2012 agreement,” said Artur Runge-Metzger, the EU’s climate chief. “I think what the rest of the world would like to see is a credible effort, a credible commitment from the side of the U.S. to resolving this major challenge.”

Conference leaders urged delegates to move quickly to launch negotiations on a climate agreement that many hope will be completed by 2009.

Among the most contentious issues are whether emission cuts should be mandatory and how much up-and-coming economies like China and India should have to rein in their skyrocketing emissions.

Also on the table are efforts to curb deforestation and help for the world’s poorest countries to adapt to a worsening climate.

“The eyes of the world are upon you. There is a huge responsibility for Bali to deliver,” said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the conference. “The world now expects a quantum leap forward.”

The conference opened as momentum grows around the globe in support for dramatic steps aimed at stopping a rise in temperatures that many scientists fear could lead to swamped coastal areas and islands, the loss of species, economic havoc and a spike in natural disasters such as storms, forest fires and droughts.
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AP Environmental Writer

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