U.S. under fire as world climate talks near end

  • World
  • Saturday, 10 Dec 2005

By Mary Milliken and Timothy Gardner

MONTREAL (Reuters) - The United States stood alone in resisting a new, wider agreement to combat climate change on Friday as most industrialized and developing nations moved closer to extending the Kyoto Protocol to curb global warming past 2012. 

On the final day of the Nov. 28-Dec. 9 U.N. conference on climate change, environmentalists said they were losing hope that the United States -- the largest producer of heat-trapping greenhouse gases -- would sign a agreement for all nations, not just Kyoto members. 

Although the United States is not one of the 157 countries that have subscribed to Kyoto, Canada wants a deal on open-ended talks among all countries about long-term cooperation on climate change. 

Even without a wider deal, Kyoto countries are meant to announce an agreement to launch negotiations in May 2006 for the second phase of the protocol that centers on binding emissions cuts. 

Stealing the show on Friday was former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who told the meeting his successor, George W. Bush, was "flat wrong" for rejecting Kyoto. Cutting greenhouse gases, he said, was good for the economy. 

Bush pulled out of Kyoto in 2001, arguing mandatory cuts on emissions from fossil fuels would hamper growth and job creation. Washington prefers its own approach to stem global warming, mostly by investing heavily in technology. 

Negotiations on the final day could go well into the night as European Union officials tried to get the United States back in the fold after walking out of a session of talks overnight. 

"Sixty years ago Winston Churchill told the U.S. Congress the United States always does the right thing, after having exhausted all other options'," EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told a news conference. 

"I think it will be very difficult for the United States not to join the dialogue that has almost unanimous support," he added. 


The United States struck back at some of the criticism. Canadian media reported the White House was angry with the host nation after Prime Minister Paul Martin directly accused it of not doing its part against global warming. 

Martin struck a more conciliatory tone on Friday by admitting Canada was lagging in reaching its goals under Kyoto. 

"We've got to pull up our socks. We've got a lot to do. ... It's not a case of saying, 'We're better than you,'" he told a news conference with Clinton. 

Many here had hoped the United States' resistance would be broken by this year's extreme weather events, particularly Hurricane Katrina's destruction of New Orleans. Scientific evidence suggests global warming might be behind recent devastating weather patterns. 

Environmentalists have urged the European Union -- the leader in the process -- to move ahead without Washington, even though Bush agreed at this year's G8 summit to advance at Montreal. 

"The brakes are being released, the process is moving forward," said Bill Hare, climate policy director at Greenpeace, of advances under Kyoto. "This week we've seen some historic progress in the global response to climate change." 

The agreement on a Kyoto renewal road map would give members seven years to negotiate and ratify accords by the time the first phase ends in 2012. 

Under Kyoto, some 40 industrialized nations agreed to cut emissions in 2008-12 by over 5 percent from 1990 levels. But most countries agree that deeper and more long-term cuts will be needed to avoid climate chaos in coming decades. 

There is also pressure to draw in developing giants like China and India, which were not included in the first phase of commitments and whose fast-growing economies rely heavily on dirty energy. 

"Some rich countries have to do more," said Nado Rinchhen, delegate for the Himalayan nation of Bhutan, adding that "the lesson now is that it's a global issue." 

(Additional reporting by David Fogarty and Alister Doyle) 

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