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Global economy woes cast shadow on climate talks
BANGKOK, April 2 (AFP) Apr 02, 2008
Painstakingly tough negotiations on how to fight climate change are getting even harder as concerns mount that the global economy is heading into recession.

Even when the economic outlook looked brighter, the United States led criticism that the existing Kyoto Protocol's requirements on cutting greenhouse gases would prove too costly for rich countries.

As more than 160 nations talk here about what to do after Kyoto's obligations end in 2012, the backdrop is tepid growth in major developed economies and widening fallout from the troubled US housing sector.

"There's no question it's going to make enacting climate policy more difficult," said Angela Anderson, head of the global warming campaign at the Washington-based Pew Environment Group.

"The economic situation is going to make the fight about cost containment versus ambitious emissions reductions that much more controversial," she said.

Anderson and other environmentalists hope policymakers see the long-term benefits of fighting global warming, which UN scientists say could affect millions of people and cause the extinction of animals and plants by later this century.

A study last month by the US Environmental Protection Agency said that legally capping emissions in the world's largest economy would shave only one percent from growth in gross domestic product by 2030.

The Apollo Alliance, a US green initiative, argues that a major drive to end US reliance on foreign oil would create three million new jobs.

But Alan Oxley, a former Australian ambassador who leads the pro-globalisation group World Growth, said that green technologies were not yet economically viable.

"If we try and engineer a new economy, we would have the same success as the Soviet communist party," he said.

Oxley, a critic of the Kyoto Protocol, said that curbing emissions would inevitably reduce consumption, particularly of energy, and would hit developing economies particularly hard.

"The concern about a general slowdown in the economy should be a good wake-up call for climate change negotiators to factor in the reality of the global economy," he said.

The European Union has championed fresh binding cuts in emissions of up to 40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels. But US President George W. Bush's administration has pushed for greater commitments from developing economies such as China and India.

Japan, concerned about its fragile recovery from recession in the 1990s, has recently pressed calls to shift the base year for future emissions cuts from 1990 to 2005, easing the burden on Asia's largest economy.

But even in Japan, business leaders have dropped objections to imposing mandatory cuts in emissions on industries.

Yvo de Boer, head of the UN climate body leading the five-day talks in Bangkok, said he was pleasantly surprised that business leaders were not pushing harder to weaken efforts against global warming.

Instead, de Boer said that business leaders wanted to know as soon as possible about future measures against global warming so they could make the right investment decisions.

"If you don't have clarity from governments on where they intend to go on climate change and you build the wrong power plant which doesn't take you towards a subsequent policy goal, you could be throwing away 500 million dollars with every power plant you build," de Boer said.

And in the United States, all three major candidates to succeed Bush next year have also pledged tougher action on global warming.

"To use short-term economics as an excuse not to tackle global warming is opportunism," said David Doniger, climate policy chief at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council.

"The same people who opposed global warming legislation when the economy was doing well are now opposing it when the economy is doing poorly. They have only one constant and that is they oppose dealing with global warming," he said.

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