Quest for new climate treaty begins in earnest
By GEIR MOULSON,Associated Press Writer AP - Tuesday, December 2
POZNAN, Poland - Negotiators kicked off the final yearlong push Monday for a new climate change treaty _ but with the U.S. government in transition, the European Union in disarray and a worldwide economic crisis, chances were hazy for a quick agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The outgoing U.S. delegation appointed by President George W. Bush said it would oppose specific targets for reducing global carbon emissions. That prompted delegates of the 190 countries at the conference to look forward to a more climate-friendly administration under President-elect Barack Obama.
"I'm delighted to see that the president-elect ... has put climate and energy policies very high on his political agenda, and I look forward to strong American leadership on the climate issue," said Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
The conference, attended by more than 10,000 delegates and environmental activists, is working to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required 37 countries to slash carbon emissions by an average 5 percent from 1990 levels by 2012.
Delegations have set next December as a deadline, giving their countries enough time to ratify the new pact for a smooth transition after 2012.
A key element in dispute is whether to adopt specific long-term and medium-term targets for slashing heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Scientists say the world must dramatically reduce carbon emissions within a few years, and reach 50 to 80 percent reductions by 2050.
Obama has pledged to reclaim a leading role for the United States in fighting global warming, with a drive to reduce U.S. emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and by a further 80 percent by 2050.
The EU has agreed on a 20 percent cut in emissions by 2020, but has not yet determined how its 27 members will combine to reach that goal.
U.S. delegate Harlan Watson said he expected no agreement on the reductions in Poznan.
"I don't think many parties are ready to sign on to any range at this time," Watson told reporters. He said any such agreement likely will "occur in the end game" in 12 months.
But Watson indicated his delegation would take a low profile in the talks, restricting its contributions to issues like technology research.
Climate talks have long been burdened by a conflict pitting the United States, which denounced Kyoto as imbalanced and harmful to its economy, against fast-developing countries like China, India and Brazil, which objected to measures that could limit development and their ability to ease poverty for millions.
The negotiations won a breakthrough last year when the developing countries agreed to help lower global emissions, as long as they received the technology and finances to move toward lower carbon economies.
Negotiators on Monday got a somber reminder of the costs of failure from the head of a Nobel Peace Prize-winning panel of U.N. climate scientists, Rajendra Pachauri. Those consequences include a potential meltdown of Greenland or Antarctic ice that could raise sea levels by several yards (meters), and a growing lack of water for millions of people by mid-century.
Emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases must level off by 2015 and then drop sharply to avert such disasters, he said.
Fogh Rasmussen warned against letting the global financial crisis divert attention from climate change.
"It is severe, it is urgent, but it must never serve as an excuse to neglect climate change," he told reporters, adding that the crisis was an opportunity "to transform our economy in a more sustainable low-carbon direction."
Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk agreed.
"Financial crises happened in the past and will happen in the future, but our work for the environment should be timeless," he said.
Associated Press writer Arthur Max contributed to this report.
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