UN Climate Chief Says US-EU Deadlock over Emissions Cuts Threatens Summit

December 14, 2007

The U.N. climate chief warned on Thursday that a deadlock between the United States and the European Union over pollution cuts threatened to derail talks aimed at launching negotiations for a new global warming pact.

Washington has refused to accept language in a draft document suggesting that industrialized nations consider cutting emissions by 25 percent to 40 percent by 2020 during talks aimed at hammering out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

The European Union and other governments say the figures reflect the measures scientists say are necessary to rein in global warming. But the U.S., Japan and others say the inclusion of specific targets will limit the scope of discussions.

“I’m very concerned about the pace of things,” said U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer, as a two-week U.N. climate conference entered its final stretch. “If we don’t get wording on the future, then the whole house of cards falls to pieces.”

The conference, which has drawn delegates from 190 nations to Bali island, is aimed at launching negotiations for a new accord that will head off scientific predictions of rising sea levels, worsening floods and droughts, and the extinction of plant and animal species.

While it continues to reject inclusion of the numbers, the United States delegation said it hopes eventually to reach an agreement that is “environmentally effective” and “economically sustainable,” but that haggling over numbers now was counterproductive.

“We need to free up this conversation so we can have the deliberation to find as much consensus and collective engagement,” said Jim Connaughton, the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The meeting on Bali was scheduled to wrap up Friday.

Other sticking points include demands from developing countries that they be given assurances of financial assistance and access to expensive technology to help them transition to cleaner economies.

“At 12 noon tomorrow, time will be up,” said de Boer. “We’re in an all or nothing situation.” [Ed. Note the conference has since been extended through Friday]. He said he thought a revised draft, which changed the language on emissions cuts, would still include the U.S. among countries that would consider more ambitious targets. But he added language in the draft, which was obtained by The Associated Press, is unclear.

“The way I read the particular paragraph … is that it addresses all industrialized countries,” he said. “My assessment is that it is not clearly crafted. We will have to wait and see where this goes.”

The United States is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the only major industrial country to have rejected Kyoto, which expires in 2012. It has been on the defensive since the conference kicked off on Dec. 3.

Pressure has come even from a one-time ally on climate, Australia, whose new prime minister urged Washington to “embrace” binding targets, and from former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for helping alert the world to the danger of climate change. He will address delegates in Bali later Thursday.

But U.S. Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky, the head of the American delegation, told reporters that the conference was simply the start of negotiations, not the end. “We don’t have to resolve all these issues … here in Bali,” she said.

That did not satisfy environmentalists, who accused Washington of standing in the way of a meaningful deal – and not just on the inclusion of emissions targets. “We know that there is a wrecking crew in Bali led by the U.S. administration and its minions,” said Jennifer Morgan, spokeswoman for environmental groups on Bali. “They are working hard to pull out the bits of text that matter to developing countries on finance and technology.”

Delegates and observers said the tenor of the talks was pointing toward a least-common-denominator outcome: a vague plan to negotiate by 2009 a new deal on emissions cutbacks, replacing Kyoto Protocol.

“Everyone wants the United States in so badly that they will be willing to accept some level of ambiguity in the negotiations,” said Greenpeace energy expert John Coequyt. “Our worry is that we will end up with a deal that is unacceptable from an environmental perspective.”

The U.N’s network of climate scientists, which shared the Nobel with Gore, released four major reports in 2007, saying man-made global warming was incontrovertible and nations must sharply reduce emissions of heat-trapping emissions from industry, transport and agriculture.

The Kyoto Protocol requires 37 industrial nations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by a relatively modest average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

U.S. President George W. Bush has argued that the pact would harm the U.S. economy and cutbacks should have been imposed on poorer but fast-developing nations such as China and India. The Bush administration instead promotes a voluntary approach to reducing emissions.

The U.S. delegation heard entreaties from many quarters here to change its position. In the next round, “we expect all developed countries to embrace a further set of binding emissions targets,” said [Australian] Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who ratified Kyoto last week soon after being elected, leaving the U.S. alone as the only major industrial nation that repudiates that pact.

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