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Despite Cancun deal, US shifts away on climate

Cancun summit revives U.N. process
Cancun, Mexico (UPI) Dec 14, 2010 - U.N. climate change negotiations buried a year ago in Denmark rose from the grave in Cancun, Mexico, at a summit that saw a last-minute breakthrough to instill the negotiations with careful fresh hope. The agreement struck in Cancun, where representatives from 194 nations met to prepare a new climate protection treaty, calls for major emissions cuts, launches a multibillion-dollar fund to help poor nations adapt to climate change and finalizes a scheme to stop deforestation.

In a significant progress to the negotiations, all countries -- including the United States and China -- agreed that much stronger efforts are needed to contain the warming of the climate to no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, a threshold scientists say is crucial to avert the most catastrophic effects of the temperature increase. "This is a really important moment, a turning point in the long-running saga of international climate change negotiations," said Britain's Climate Secretary Chris Huhne. The so-called Cancun Agreement might even convince the European Union to boost its target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 from 20 percent to 30 percent, he added.

While Cancun ended on a positive note, observers noted that there's still a long way to go to reach an ambitious successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which runs out in 2012. The Cancun Agreement will have to be adopted and ramped up at a future summit. As of now, global pledges to reduce carbon dioxide emissions fall short of what's needed to limit global warming to below 3.6 degrees F. Adding up industrialized nations' reduction targets while considering all the loopholes buried in the current agreement amounts to reductions of 2 percent in 2020 based on 1990 levels, the Boell Foundation, a policy think tank linked to the German Green Party, said in its analysis of the summit. "That's a catastrophe," it added.

In the run-up to the Cancun summit, there was significant suspicion in the United States that the U.N. process can actually deliver a binding agreement that includes commitments for rich and developing nations alike. There are still doubts to that end but Cancun gave observers fresh hope because it showed that the U.N. negotiations can still yield results after negotiations failed so miserably at a summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, last December. The run-up to the Cancun meeting and its first days had yielded few reasons to believe that things would be different in Mexico. The United States was pitted against China in a debate over accountability; the left-leaning Latin American nations cried foul when industrialized wouldn't significantly up their reduction pledges; and finally, Japan, usually calm in international negotiations, threatened to block any decision that wouldn't bury for good Kyoto, a treaty of extreme importance to developing nations because it has held rich nations accountable to emissions cuts.

Unlike last year's Danish presidency, the skillful Mexican chairmanship made every effort to have all voices heard. It managed reduce much of the disharmony by compromise-brokering or by simply sidestepping the most contentious issues with crafty wording. Ahead of the final session, an agreement all of a sudden seemed within reach. Only Bolivia, disgruntled by what it said was "ecocide" committed by rich nations, until the very last minute refused to back the compromise agreement. In the end, to thundering applause from the delegates, the Mexican chairman adopted the agreement while merely noting Bolivia's opposition -- a unique step in U.N. negotiations often undermined by the need for unanimous decisions.
by Staff Writers
Cancun, Mexico (AFP) Dec 14, 2010
A new international accord on global warming has heartened environmentalists, but casting a shadow is the political shift in the United States where legislative climate efforts died in 2010.

President Barack Obama's administration played an active role brokering the December 11 deal in Cancun, Mexico, which pledged deep cuts in carbon emissions blamed for climate change and set up a new global fund to administer aid.

But in Washington, a bill to impose restrictions on carbon died in the Senate. That was even before mid-term elections in which Obama's Democratic Party was trounced by the Republicans, some of whom doubt most scientists' view that the world is heating up.

"Obviously, whether or not the US can live up to its commitment is an issue that is stuck in the back of people's minds," said Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

It marks a sharp turnaround from just two years ago, when Obama's election particularly cheered the European Union which was deeply at odds with previous president George W. Bush, who rejected efforts to curb climate change.

Chief US negotiator Todd Stern, whom other envoys welcomed with applause when he replaced Bush's climate team, was cautious on whether the Cancun accord could turn around the mood in Washington.

Stern said the accord should satisfy US political players who have insisted on verifiable action on climate change by other nations -- especially China, which has surpassed the United States as the largest carbon emitter.

"It doesn't mean I think you're suddenly going to get the votes to pass last year's bill, because that's not going to happen right away. But I think it's generally a helpful development," Stern said.

Senator John Kerry, who spearheaded the climate bill, welcomed the Cancun accord and said that far more action was needed "to prevent catastrophe," with experts pointing to growing storms and disasters as evidence of climate change.

"The United States needs to get back in the game today instead of being held back by obstructionism and broken politics at home, which have hurt us not just in the race to address climate change, but which have set us back in the race to define the clean energy economy and all the good jobs that come with it," the Massachusetts senator and former presidential candidate said.

But Republican lawmakers have criticized one of the key planks of the Cancun accord -- a 100 billion-dollar-a-year fund starting in 2020 to assist the poorest countries worst affected by climate change blamed largely on industrial nations' emissions.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Cancun talks, four Republican senators, led by John Barrasso of Wyoming, raised questions about the science behind climate change and noted that the United States was confronted by high unemployment and a spiraling debt.

"It makes no sense for the United States to now spend billions of taxpayer dollars to fight climate change in other countries," they wrote.

"If the administration is serious about listening to the American people, they will cancel this international climate change bailout."

Japan and the European Union have led pledges to the proposed fund, with Clinton saying last year at the Copenhagen climate summit that the United States would also contribute.

The Cancun accord set up the practicalities for administering the aid. In a point pushed by the United States, the new Green Climate Fund will be administered by the World Bank.

Alden Meyer, a climate talks watcher at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said it would be impossible to convince climate skeptics but that the Cancun accord was welcome after the widely criticized Copenhagen accord.

A collapse of talks in Cancun "could have been used by opponents saying, 'The world isn't serious and we told you so,'" Meyer said.

"So we avoided a negative, and we got a small positive," he said.

Despite the shift in Washington, a number of US states are moving on their own against climate change. California, the most populous state, is putting together a cap-and-trade system after voters rejected a referendum to stop it.

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