BALI, Indonesia - Despite the Bush administration's reluctance, US states and cities could make an American national commitment to a new global agreement to cut greenhouse gases, the chief UN climate scientist said yesterday.
In an interview, Rajendra Pachauri said the US approach to climate change might be altered by the upcoming presidential election or by the combined actions of states and cities.
Pachauri, whose Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared this year's Nobel Peace Prize with former vice president Al Gore, spoke during the UN climate conference on this resort island.
More than 180 nations are assembled to launch negotiations on an agreement for future reductions in carbon dioxide and other industrial, transportation, and agricultural gases blamed for global warming.
The Indian climatologist and chairman of the intergovernmental panel will accept the Peace Prize Monday in Norway on behalf of his group, a network of 2,000 climate and other scientists.
Pachauri and Gore will make separate appeals later in the two-week conference for decisive steps toward a new regime of deeper emissions cutbacks to succeed the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.
The 1997 Kyoto accord required 36 industrial nations to reduce emissions by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The United States is the only industrial nation to reject Kyoto; President Bush says the required cuts would damage the US economy.
The US delegation in Bali has indicated no change in that position. However, "there's much that's happened" at congressional, state, and local levels, Pachauri said.
California last year adopted a sweeping law requiring reductions of about 25 percent in greenhouse gases by 2020.
New York and nine other Northeastern states are putting caps on power-plant emissions and developing a system to trade emissions allowances, and last month five Midwestern states announced a joint program to reduce emissions.
At the local level across the United States, city governments have introduced significant measures to rein in carbon emissions.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York plans to reduce his city's emissions by 30 percent by 2030, by requiring taxis to switch to gas-saving hybrid vehicles, for example, and most controversially by adding fees for vehicles to enter lower Manhattan.
Seattle claims city operations have cut greenhouse-gas emissions 60 percent through motor pools of hybrid cars, trucks using biodiesel fuel, and other measures.
Pachauri sees an alternative if the administration does not commit to certain actions: direct action by states and communities. "The sum total of that would amount to a commitment, you could say, equivalent to a national commitment," he said.
In addition, he said, the upcoming presidential election "would have some bearing on what the outcome is in these negotiations" over the next two years.
Presidential candidates in both the Republican and Democratic parties favor mandatory caps on US emissions, and a US Senate committee approved a bill Wednesday that would - if not vetoed by Bush - impose a cap-and-trade system nationwide.
China asserted yesterday that the United States and other wealthy nations should bear the burden of curbing global warming, saying the problem was created by their lavish way of life. It rejected mandatory emission cuts for its own developing industries.
Su Wei, a top climate scientist for China's government attending the conference, said it is unfair to ask developing nations to accept binding emissions cuts and other restrictions being pushed for already industrialized states.
He said the United States and its fellow industrial nations have long spewed greenhouse gases into the atmosphere while newly emerging economies have done so for only a few decades.
"China is in the process of industrialization and there is a need for economic growth to meet the basic needs of the people and fight against poverty," Su said.
While many scientists believe China has surpassed the United States as the world's top emitter of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, Su noted the Chinese population is far bigger and said America's emissions per person are six times higher than in China.
"I think there is much room for the United States to think whether it's possible to change [its] lifestyle and consumption patterns in order to contribute to the protection of the global climate," he said.