E.U. threatens to boycott Bush climate talks

Friday, December 14, 2007
An Indonesian man ate fire Thursday during a festival put on by nongovernment environmental organizations on the sidelines of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia. (Binsar Bakkara ~ Associated Press)

The U.S. has invited 16 major economies to discuss a program of cutbacks in greenhouse gas emissions.

BALI, Indonesia -- European nations threatened Thursday to boycott U.S.-sponsored climate talks next month unless the Bush administration compromises and agrees to a "road map" for reducing greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

With the U.N. climate conference in its final hours, Nobel laureate Al Gore said the United States was "principally responsible" for blocking progress here toward an agreement on launching negotiations to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.

But the former U.S. vice president urged delegations to reach the required unanimous agreement before the conference's end today, even if it meant putting aside goals for emissions cuts.

"You can do one of two things here," Gore said. "You can feel anger and frustration and direct it at the United States of America, or you can make a second choice. You can decide to move forward and do all of the difficult work that needs to be done."

The United States, Japan, Russia and several other governments refused to accept language in a draft document suggesting rich nations consider cutting emissions 25 percent to 40 percent by 2020, saying specific targets would limit the scope of future talks.

European nations and others argued that numerical goals are essential reference points in efforts to curb global warming.

All sides agree it is impossible to deal with climate change unless the United States is involved. It is the world's leading emitter of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and the only major industrial country that did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

President Bush views his own climate talks as the main vehicle for determining action by the U.S. -- and, he hopes, by others. The Jan. 30 and 31 session in Honolulu is a continuation of September talks at the White House called the Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change.

The U.S. has invited representatives of 16 major economies, including European countries, Japan, China and India, to discuss a program of what are expected to be nationally determined, voluntary cutbacks in greenhouse gas emissions.

But the EU warned it would stay away unless Washington drops its opposition to mandatory cuts.

"No result in Bali means no Major Economies Meeting," said Sigmar Gabriel, the top EU environment official. "This is the clear position of the EU. I do not know what we should talk about if there is no target."

The main goal in Bali is to kick-start two years of intense dialogue about how to slow global warming and head off scientific predictions of rising sea levels, worsening floods and droughts, and losing plant and animal species.

Yvo de Boer, the U.N. climate chief, said he worried the U.S.-EU deadlock could derail any consensus in Bali on how to proceed.

"I'm very concerned about the pace of things," he said. "If we don't get wording on the future, then the whole house of cards falls to pieces."

The U.S. delegation said that while it continued to reject inclusion of specific emission cut targets, it hoped eventually to reach an agreement that would be "environmentally effective" and "economically sustainable."

"We don't have to resolve all these issues ... here in Bali," said Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, head of the American delegation.

The Kyoto Protocol requires 37 industrial nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by the pact's expiration in 2012. Australia was the latest industrial country to ratify the pact, soon after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was elected.

Bush rejected the Kyoto pact on the grounds it would harm the U.S. economy and its provisions didn't apply to poorer but fast-developing nations such as China and India, whose emission levels are growing fast.

China and India have called on the West to take the lead in cutting emissions and insist they will not agree to any targets that would slow the pace of development. But neither publicly says whether they would support emission targets.

Appearing at the U.N. conference four days after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on alerting people to the threat from rising temperatures, Gore challenged delegates packing a meeting hall to forge an agreement with an eye on history.

"Instead of shaking our heads at the difficulty of this path and saying this is impossible, how can we do this, we ought to feel a sense of joy that we have work that is worth doing that is so important to the future of human kind," he said.

"You have everything that you need, we have everything we need except political will. But political will is a renewable resource."

Gore criticized the United States as "principally responsible for obstructing progress" in Bali, raising loud cheers from the delegates. But he also urged them to reach an agreement, which he said a future U.S. administration would likely support.

"Over the next two years, the United States is going to be somewhere it is not now," he said, noting that all Democratic and several Republican presidential candidates support mandatory emission cuts.

"I must tell you candidly that I cannot promise that the person who is elected will have the position I expect they will have, but I can tell you I believe it is quite likely," Gore said.

Kristen Hellmer, a member of the U.S. delegation, said Gore's assertions were untrue.

"The U.S. is being open and working very constructively with the other countries that are here," she said. "We are rolling our sleeves up and really working to come up with a global post-2012 framework."

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