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Can Obama rev up climate talks?

by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) March 26, 2009
UN talks on delivering a historic deal on climate change resume in Bonn on Sunday with many hoping that US President Barack Obama's untested negotiators can breathe life into a troubled process.

Some 190 nations will launch a marathon of meetings designed to culminate in Copenhagen in December with a new pact for curbing greenhouse gases beyond 2012, when provisions under the Kyoto Protocol expire.

"The real negotiations are beginning here in Bonn this weekend," the UN's top climate official, Yvo de Boer, told AFP.

Obama's climate team, headed by Todd Stern, is scheduled to make a statement Sunday at the start of the 11-day meeting.

"I hope they will set out the main principles that will guide the United States," said de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

With less than nine months left to complete an accord of extraordinary complexity, a kind of consensus has coalesced around a target for 2050.

The goal is either for halving emissions compared with a benchmark year, or pegging temperature increases below 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times, according to a UN text unveiled last week.

But there remains deep disagreement on how to divvy up the burden between rich and emerging economies and what stepping-stone targets should be set along the way.

Industrialised nations are prepared to take on the larger burden, but want China, India, Brazil and other major carbon polluters also to make commitments of some kind.

These countries, in turn, say they first want to see money on the table to help them develop clean technology and adapt to climate change already underway.

The European Union (EU) has taken the lead on reducing carbon pollution, promising to slash emissions by 20 percent compared to 1900 levels by 2020, and by 30 percent if other industrialised countries follow suit.

By 2050, it will deepen the cuts to 80 percent.

On the election trail, Obama vowed to match the EU's mid-century objectives, but offered a more modest goal for 2020 of simply returning the US to 1990 level emissions.

This is a cut of around 14 percent of current emissions, but still far short of what the EU is proposing and what many scientists say is necessary from the world's biggest polluter after China.

In Europe, there is intense relief at the end of the era of former president George W. Bush, who abandoned Kyoto and opposed binding targets for the US.

Despite warm feelings for Obama and fear that criticising him could undermine his domestic position, the EU is also worried that his 2020 goal is just too modest.

"We are going to tell them that we don't agree, that we think that this is not enough," said a European negotiator, who argued that Japan, Canada and other industrialised countries may well take their cues from Washington.

Alden Meyer, a climate expert at the Boston-based Union of Concerted Scientists, agrees there has been some critical "blowback" from European nations looking for stronger US efforts.

But he thinks Washington may be ready to close the gap on the short-term targets, at least part way.

One reason for Obama's caution, though, is to avoid getting too far ahead of climate and energy legislation taking shape in the US Congress.

"What we must avoid -- and the Obama administration recognizes this -- is a repeat of the Kyoto situation where the US brought home an international agreement and Congress would not ratify it," said Jennifer Haverkamp, the top climate expert at the US advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund.

In 1997, the US Senate voted 95-to-0 in a non-binding resolution to reject the new climate treaty as it did not impose commitments on developing countries.

Last week, China's chief climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua linked progress in UN climate talks to progress on a US law.

Democratic Congressman Edward Markey, Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, said his committee intended to introduce a draft climate and energy bill next week.

"By the end of May, we will have produced a piece of legislation voted on by the (House) Energy and Commerce Committee," he told journalists Thursday in a telephone news conference.

"This is the beginning of the real process," Markey said, referring to the Bonn meeting.

"Bonn is an opportunity to demonstrate that there no longer is a unilateral disdain of the UN global warming negotiation process."

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Dust plays role in warmer global temps: study
Washington (AFP) March 26, 2009
A decrease in airborne dust and volcanic emissions has contributed to warming the North Atlantic Ocean in the past three decades, a study showed Thursday.

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