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No friction with Obama at climate talks, says chief delegate

US President Barack Obama.
by Staff Writers
Poznan, Poland (AFP) Dec 1, 2008
The top US delegate at world climate talks here said Monday he saw no likelihood of discord with the incoming administration of Barack Obama, who has vowed to overturn US policies on global warming.

Harlan Watson, heading the US team at the 12-day UN talks that opened here Monday, said "the principal differences" on climate change between President George W. Bush and President-elect Obama were on addressing domestic emissions of greenhouse gases.

"I would say, don't look so much at the differences domestically. On the international scene, there's broad-based agreement," he told a press conference.

Watson said he saw "broad consensus with regard to a number of important issues internationally -- it's a global issue, we need all parties in the [UN Climate] Convention involved, in particular major developing economies. There's no difference in opinion on that."

The United States has been isolated on climate change since Bush walked away from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001.

Abandonment by what was the world's biggest carbon polluter at the time nearly destroyed the landmark treaty to curb greenhouse gases.

Bush said the emissions targets negotiated under President Bill Clinton were too costly for the US economy.

He also said it was unfair that emissions curbs only applied to developed countries, not emerging giants such as China and India.

Talks resumed in Poznan on Monday on building a successor to Kyoto's provisions beyond 2012 under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Delegates have been wondering whether the Bush administration will take a hard line at these talks, choosing to obstruct agreement or set down positions that would then have to be unwound by Obama.

Members of the US Congress will attend the talks next week, and report back to the president-elect.

Watson promised the United States would not hamper progress.

"We're going to be making positive contributions so that the next team can pick up the ball and carry it forward," he said.

Obama has set a goal of reducing US emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050, using a cap-and-trade system and a 10-year programme worth 150 billion dollars in renewable energy.

He has also vowed to return the United States to the centre of the global debate on climate change, although his details on this have been sketchy.

Watson said Obama's 2020 emissions goal "is possible" but warned it would not be "cost-free."

Under cap-and-trade, the authorities set a limit, or cap, on emissions.

Polluters have to meet an individual cap or else pay penalties for exceeding it.

If they emit less than their target, they can sell the surplus to polluters who are over their cap, thus providing an incentive to everyone to clean up their act.

"I don't think it's going to be that difficult to set up, the mechanics of it," said Watson.

More difficult, he thought, would be to get agreements about regional or state caps, as many US states derive most of their electricity from coal -- the dirtiest fossil fuel -- than others.

Asked about the legacy on climate change that the Bush administration had left in the international arena, Watson admitted wryly, "We have had a lot of criticism, and I could show you some scars."

But, he insisted, the United States had advanced the discussion on the transfer of clean technology, on channelling funds to help countries exposed to climate change and on launching consultations among major emitters.

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Climate juggernaut on the horizon, UN talks told
Poznan, Poland (AFP) Dec 1, 2008
War, hunger, poverty and sickness will stalk humanity if the world fails to tackle climate change, a 12-day UN conference on global warming heard on Monday.

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