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US 'not ready' to commit on emissions cut, envoy says

Activists rally around globe for action

A climate protester in London wore a toy plane on her head. Rallies were held in more than 50 cities yesterday. A climate protester in London wore a toy plane on her head. Rallies were held in more than 50 cities yesterday. (Getty Images/Peter Macdiarmid)
Email|Print| Text size + By Charles J. Hanley
Associated Press / December 9, 2007

BALI, Indonesia - The United States will come up with its own plan to cut global-warming gases by mid-2008, and won't commit to mandatory caps at the UN climate conference in Bali, the chief US negotiator said yesterday.

"We're not ready to do that here," said Harlan Watson, the State Department's senior climate negotiator and special representative. "We're working on that, what our domestic contribution would be, and again we expect that sometime before the end of the major economies process."

That process of US-led talks was inaugurated last September by President Bush, who invited 16 other "major economies" such as the Europeans, Japan, China, and India, to Washington to discuss a future international program of cutbacks in carbon dioxide and other emissions blamed for global warming.

Environmentalists accuse the Bush administration of using those parallel talks to subvert the long-running UN negotiations and the spirit of the binding Kyoto Protocol, which requires 36 industrial nations to make relatively modest cuts in "greenhouse" gases.

Demonstrations and rallies were held in more than 50 major cities around the world yesterday to coincide with the two-week UN Climate Change Conference, which runs through Friday. Hundreds marched outside the conference center in Bali.

Activists at Walden Pond in Concord, Mass. took part in the National Polar Bear Plunge, one of several such events from New England to Fairbanks, Alaska, yesterday.

In Taipei, Taiwan, about 1,500 people marched through the streets holding banners and placards saying "No to carbon dioxide." At a Climate Rescue Carnival held in a park in Auckland, New Zealand, more than 350 people lay on the grass to spell out "Climate SOS."

In the Philippine capital, Manila, hundreds of people joined a costume parade, with some wearing miniature windmills on their hats or framing their faces in cardboard cutouts of the sun.

At the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, ice sculpture artist Christian Funk carved a polar bear out of 15 tons of ice as a memorial to climate protection. Christmas markets throughout Germany switched off their lights for five minutes.

In London, British cyclists pedaled into Parliament Square, and about 2,000 people marched in the rain past Parliament to rally outside the US embassy. About 1,000 people joined a march in Stockholm. Fire-eaters blew flames at a rally in Athens.

The United States is the only major industrial country to have rejected Kyoto and its obligatory targets. The US leadership instead favors a more voluntary approach, in which individual nations determine what they can contribute to a global effort, without taking on obligations under the UN climate treaty.

Watson's comments yesterday reaffirmed that the Bush administration views its own talks as the main event in discussions over climate change.

The European Union, on the other hand, has committed to binding emissions reductions of 20 percent by 2020. Midway through the Bali conference, many of the more than 180 assembled nations were demanding such firm commitments from Washington as well, as the world talks about a framework to follow Kyoto when it expires in 2012.

"It would be useful for Annex I, non-Kyoto countries" - code for the United States - "to indicate what level of effort" they'll make, said M.J. Mace, a delegate from the Pacific nation of Micronesia, whose islands are threatened by seas rising from global warming.

The conference's main negotiating text, tabled for debate yesterday, mentions targets, but in a nonbinding way.

Its preamble notes the widely accepted view that industrial nations' emissions should be cut by 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to help head off climate change's worst impacts - expanding oceans, spreading droughts, dying species, extreme weather and other effects.

Even mentioning such numbers in the conference's key document may set off renewed debate next week, when environment ministers and other ranking leaders join the talks, which are meant to launch a two-year negotiation for a post-Kyoto deal.

Delegates here made progress in the first week on such secondary matters as establishing a system for compensating tropical forest nations for reducing deforestation, a major source of carbon emissions. They're expected to approve work on measuring forest cover, emissions and related factors.

"I've observed a strong willingness on the part of countries to get a successful outcome in Bali," the UN climate chief, Yvo de Boer, told reporters in assessing the first week.

Watson said the Bush administration is planning probably four more meetings in the Major Economies series before a "leaders' meeting" in mid-2008 presents a final outcome.

Asked how the US-organized process would complement the UN treaty talks, he said, "We think if we could get agreement among these 17 economies, or a good portion of them anyway, that would certainly contribute to that discussion in terms of any sort of interim goals or targets that might be discussed."

But he acknowledged it remained unclear how the two "tracks" would merge.

For one thing, there's no guarantee the Europeans, for example, would fully join in what is likely to be a voluntary emissions regime. And as Bush's White House term nears its end, the rest of the world may be looking instead for a fresh start under a new president less resistant to binding international cooperation. Democratic and some GOP presidential hopefuls favor mandatory reductions.

De Boer implied that the world ought to wait before debating binding targets. "I really hope that that is a discussion that will be taken up toward the end of that two years rather than here," he told reporters.

The talks to follow Bali would also attempt to draw China, Brazil and other fast-developing economies - all exempted from binding reductions under Kyoto - into some arrangement whereby they would slow growth in their emissions.

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