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UN seeks broad Obama role on climate

By Henry Sanderson
Associated Press / November 9, 2008
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BEIJING - The head of the UN climate change body has called on the United States to take a more active role in fighting global warming once Barack Obama becomes president.

"With President-elect Obama, my hope is that the US can take on a leadership role and help to move the negotiations forward," said Yvo de Boer, executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

He spoke at a UN-sponsored climate change conference in China's capital that concluded yesterday. The meeting focused on technology transfers between nations, including setting up public-private partnerships that could help developing countries pay for improved energy systems.

Another UN conference is set for early December in Poland, at which countries will begin negotiations for a climate change accord to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

The United States rejected the Kyoto accord, arguing that it would harm American business and made no comparable demands on emerging economies. China, India, and other large developing countries signed the accord but refused to accept a binding agreement they said would limit their development and ability to ease poverty at home.

Obama has said he wants to make the United States a leader on climate change and reengage with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the parent treaty of the Kyoto accord. He said he plans to introduce emissions caps to the United States and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

But even under an Obama administration, the United States is not likely to join the Kyoto protocol, de Boer said. Emissions of greenhouse gases in the country have risen about 14 percent since 1990 levels, he said, whereas they would have had to decline by 6 percent if the nation was part of Kyoto.

Obama's efforts to limit heat-trapping gases could be hampered by a battle for control of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Bipartisan support for environmental legislation could be strained if liberal Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, unseats the chairman, Representative John Dingell, Democrat of Michigan. The committee's top Democrat for 28 years, Dingell is an ally of important automakers and electric utilities.

The committee will take the lead on measures to cap greenhouse gases and establish a multibillion-dollar market for emission allowances. Companies that cut pollution can sell their unused allowances to companies that exceed the cap.

Last month, Dingell and Representative Rick Boucher, Democrat of Virginia, released a draft of a global warming bill for reducing greenhouse gases by 80 percent by 2050, which is in line with what Obama has proposed.

Environmentalists and some liberal Democrats, however, see Dingell as an obstacle to stricter fuel economy standards for cars and trucks and cleaner fuels.

In 2002, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, supported Dingell's opponent in the Michigan primary. Last year, in a move that was viewed as undercutting Dingell's committee jurisdiction on the global warming issue, she created a panel led by Representative Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, to make the case for bigger cuts in greenhouse gases.

Waxman this year signed onto legislation with Markey that would ban any new coal-fired power plants built without technology to capture carbon dioxide. Dingell favors a more tempered approach. He has signaled his support for a bill advanced by Boucher that would establish a $1 billion annual fund generated by fees on electricity generation to develop carbon capture technology.

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