December 2, 2007

UN: US Key to Any New Climate Pact

BALI, Indonesia -- World powers meeting at a U.N. climate change conference in Indonesia this week won't be able to craft a meaningful plan to address global warming without cooperation from the United States, the top emitter of greenhouse gases, the U.N.'s climate chief said Sunday.

The United States refused to sign the last major international treaty on reducing greenhouse gases, undermining its effectiveness.

Delegates from 190 nations will gather on the resort island of Bali on Monday for one of the largest global warming conferences ever, bringing together about 10,000 people including Hollywood luminaries, former Vice President Al Gore, fishermen and drought-stricken farmers for two weeks of marathon discussions.

World leaders will attempt to launch negotiations that could lead to a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Among the most contentious issues will be whether emission cuts should be mandatory or voluntary and how to help the world's poorest countries adapt to a warmer climate.

Yvo de Boer, general secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said the role of the United States "would be critical" in the discussions and that delegates must come up with a roadmap that's embraced by Washington.

"To design a long-term response to climate change that does not include the world's largest emitter and the world's largest economy just would not make any sense," he told reporters.

The United States, which along with Australia refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, said ahead of the Bali talks that it was eager to launch negotiations, but has been among industrialized nations leading a campaign against mandatory emission cuts.

But now the United States finds itself isolated at the conference, given that Australian Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd, whose party swept to power in general elections just one week ago, immediately put signing the Kyoto pact at the top of his international agenda.

President Bush, trying to fend off charges that America is not doing enough, said this week that a final Energy Department report showed American emissions of carbon dioxide, a leading greenhouse gas, declined by 1.5 percent last year while the U.S. economy grew.

"Energy security and climate change are two of the important challenges of our time. The United States takes these challenges seriously," he said.

The meeting on Bali comes after a Nobel Prize-winning U.N. network of scientists issued a report concluding the level of carbon and other heat-trapping "greenhouse gas" emissions must be stabilized by 2015 and decline from there to stave off the worst effects of climate change.

The solutions are within reach, they said, from investing in renewable energy to improving energy efficiency. Without action, temperatures will rise, resulting in droughts, severe weather, dying species and other consequences, they said.

"It is already affecting the livelihoods of people we work with," said Dr. Charles Ehrhart, Climate Change Coordinator for CARE International, citing concerns over food security and access to water. "It is contributing to tensions within and between communities."

The 1997 Kyoto pact required 36 industrial nations to reduce carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gasses but it set relatively low emissions reduction targets: about a 5 percent required drop in the levels recorded in 1990 by 2012.

A new agreement must be concluded within two years to ensure a smooth, uninterrupted transition.

De Boer said countries need to act now but acknowledged that anyone who expects the Bali meeting to result in specific targets or long-term solutions "will leave disappointed."

Industrialized nations, which have pumped the lion's share of greenhouses gases into the atmosphere to date, should take the lead in reducing emissions, he said. Developing countries like China, the world's second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, may not be required to cut their emissions immediately but should commit slowing the growth of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases.

At best, analysts believe, Bali could lead to an agreement in about two years time with the United States under a new administration, the Europeans and other industrial nations committing to deepening blanket emissions cuts. And they say major developing countries could agree to enshrine some national policies - China's auto emission standards, for example, or energy-efficiency targets for power plants - as international obligations.