Lip service: US to commit to UN climate targets

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It seems last week’s UN climate talks in Vienna may have covered some important ground. On Friday the conference concluded with agreement on some key elements which hopefully will enable December’s summit in Bali to be of maximum productivity.

Island nations are concerned that unless emissions are cut, they will not have a country to represent

Leon Charles, a negotiator from Grenada commented that “We have reached broad agreement on the main issues”. This is an improvement from past talks which have failed to agree on things like the role of developing countries in cutting emissions.

The Bali conference will try to create a new set of targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The Kyoto agreement requires 35 industrial nations to cut their emissions 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. When it was devised in 1997, the USA caused controversy by its refused to sign up. As one of the richest, most powerful, and most polluting nations, it is vital that any new agreement gets the US on board.

At this week’s conference, US representative Harlan Watson talked to reporters about US relations with the EU: “Certainly we’ve disagreed with respect to Kyoto, but I’d point out the areas of cooperation…I don’t see “one size fits all” on this. We’ve both recognized the importance of a global effort.” The EU is seen as the most radical group at the conference, committed to cutting emissions beyond Kyoto levels and introducing more ambitious targets.

Yvo de Boer, Executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Committee on Climate ChangeUNFCCC Executive, concluded that “There is a consensus that the response needs to be global, with the involvement of all countries and that it needs to give equal importance to adaptation and mitigation.”

There was an emphasis on bringing the developing world into the fight against emissions, but also on keeping the pressure on the industralised nations to utilise their greater resources: “…many cost-effective opportunities for reducing emissions are in developing countries, but…industrialised countries need aggressive emission reduction strategies.”

A working group made up of “Annex 1” industrialised countries officially recognised that to avoid the most catastrophic forecasts made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including very frequent and severe droughts and water-shortages in large parts of the world, industrialised countries would need to reduce emissions 25-40% below 1990 levels.

Yvo de Boer, added that some developing countries – including small island nations most vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by climate change – were pressing industrialized nations for even deeper emissions cuts, acting out of a fear that “they won’t have a country to represent” if climate change is not slowed.

The US have organised a conference involving the world’s most polluting nations from the 27-28 September in Washington. Critics are concerned that the US is not prepared to commit to binding targets, preferring to “totally voluntary measures and warm and fuzzy goals that don’t achieve anything,” in the words of David Doniger, climate policy director for the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council. The UN has called for a broader conference which will be held in New York on 24 September.

Sources include: The UNFCCC; Euractiv; Environmental News Network

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