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US cautious on prospects for climate deal

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) April 19, 2010
The United States on Monday downplayed hopes of clinching a new climate treaty this year, warning against unrealistic expectations despite what it said was growing agreement among major nations.

The United States convened representatives of the world's major economies for two days of casual talks, hoping to gain an understanding of what would be possible at the next UN-led climate summit in December in Cancun, Mexico.

A statement issued afterward stressed "the importance of setting realistic expectations for Cancun," saying only that nations should "at a minimum agree on a balanced set of decisions" based on last December's summit in Copenhagen.

Todd Stern, the chief US climate negotiator, said that nearly all negotiators wanted to keep expectations in check for Cancun. He attributed the wide criticism of the Copenhagen summit largely to unrealistic hopes.

"There's no question that, globally, expectations got out ahead of what was really achievable and I don't think that's useful," Stern told reporters on a conference call.

However, Stern said there was "more convergence than you might think at the broad level" among major nations.

Stern saw "considerable support" for the Cancun summit to reach an agreement that carries legal force.

"I think people would be delighted if that happened this year, but I think people are also quite cognizant that that might or might not happen," Stern said.

Major developing economies such as China have hesitated at agreeing to a legally binding treaty, saying that wealthy nations bear primary responsibility for climate change.

Rich nations insist on a binding treaty, pointing out that China is now the world's largest emitter. The Kyoto Protocol, whose requirements expire at the end of 2012, forced only developed economies to cut emissions, triggering a US boycott.

A strong agreement may help President Barack Obama persuade Congress to approve the first nationwide US plan to curb emissions. Senators are set to present long-delayed legislation next week.

The talks included 17 major economies that account for more than 80 percent of carbon emissions, which UN-led scientists say are causing a warming of the planet that risks endangering species and worsening natural disasters.

Michael Froman, a senior White House advisor who led the meeting, said the talks also included Colombia, Denmark, Grenada and Yemen. With air travel disrupted by Iceland's volcanic eruption, some nations participated by videoconference or were represented by Washington-based diplomats.

But the United States did not invite nations including Sudan and Venezuela, whose negotiators launched hours of loud protests at December's UN summit in Copenhagen attended by 120 national leaders.

India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, in prepared remarks quoted by Indian media, told the conference that he wanted the Washington talks to reduce the "huge trust deficit" in climate negotiation.

One way to build trust, he said, was to begin the disbursement of some of the 30 billion dollars that wealthy nations say developing nations will need in the short-term to adapt to climate change.

Stern said the United States highlighted its contribution of 1.3 billion dollars in the 2010 fiscal year and the Obama administration's request to Congress for 1.9 billion dollars in 2011.

In Copenhagen, Japan offered by far the largest offer of 1.75 trillion yen (19 billion dollars) through 2012, although it said the money was contingent on a "fair and effective" international deal.

European leaders have promised 7.2 billion euros (9.7 billion dollars) in the same period.

Stern said that the talks also focused on other issues seen as critical to a climate deal, including developed nations' demands that emerging economies be transparent about their actions on climate change.

The talks are just one of a series in the run-up to Copenhagen. Germany has invited ministers for talks from May 2-4.

Thousands of activists and indigenous leaders, meanwhile, are gathering in Bolivia this week to highlight the plight of the world's poorest who they argue were largely ignored in Copenhagen.

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Iceland volcano unlikely to slow global warming: scientists
Paris (AFP) April 16, 2010
Big volcanic eruptions have had a cooling effect on Earth's climate, but the Icelandic event is too small to provide any such respite from manmade global warming, scientists said on Friday. The benchmark cooling event of the past 20 years was in 1991, when Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines. It cooled Earth's surface by 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) over the next ye ... read more

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