Bonn (AFP) March 29, 2009
The US administration is "fervently engaged" in UN talks to forge a global climate treaty but cannot rescue the troubled process on its own, its top climate negotiator said Sunday.
"Yes, the US will be powerfully and fervently engaged in this process," Todd Stern said as the 11-day United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) technical meeting got under way.
The entry of the new US team into negotiations involving more than 190 states and riven by deep divisions between rich and developing countries has generated huge expectations, sharpened by the contrast with Obama's predecessor.
George W. Bush had rejected the Kyoto Protocol, whose provisions expire in 2012, and nearly torpedoed the 2007 "Bali Roadmap" agreement that set a December 2009 deadline for a new deal.
Stern addressed more than 2,500 participants at the opening plenary session of the UN forum.
"We are very glad to be back," he said to enthusiastic applause.
Reactions were broadly positive, even from nations that remain critical of parts of Obama's climate plan.
"I am very glad that the US is reengaging -- that is a very good sign," the top Chinese negotiator, Su Wei, told AFP.
"Stern sent a very important signal on the importance of the science and the urgency," said Alden Meyer, a climate expert at the Boston-based Union of Concerted Scientists.
But in his first press conference here as Special Envoy on climate for US President Barack Obama, Stern cautioned that the United States could not "wave a magic wand" to reconcile differences.
"I don't think anybody should be thinking that the US can ride in on a white horse and make it all work," he said.
He also made it clear that tough negotiations lay ahead.
Stern challenged China and other emerging economic powerhouses such as India and Brazil to take on stronger commitments in curbing carbon pollution.
China and the United States today vie for the title of top carbon polluter, and together account for about 40 percent of global greenhouse emissions.
"If you do the math, you simply cannot be anywhere near where science tells us we need to be if you don't have China involved, as well also other major developing countries," he said.
"How that is captured, understood, expressed and quantified is going to be extremely important," he said.
The other key issue to be resolved, he added, was how to divide up the cost of mitigating greenhouse gases and adapting to the devastating impacts of global warming.
Industrialised nations are prepared to take on the larger burden, but want emerging economies that are also major carbon polluters to undertake action of some kind.
These countries, in turn, say rich nations should take the lead in making deep cuts, and put money on the table to help them develop clean technology and adapt to climate change already under way.
Stern rejected criticism that Obama's national targets were not ambitious enough, or that they fell far short of European efforts.
The EU has promising to slash emissions by 20 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2020, and by 30 percent if other industrialised countries follow suit. By 2050, the cuts would be deepen to 80 percent.
During the US presidential campaign, Obama vowed to match the European Union's mid-century objectives.
He offered what appeared to be a more modest goal for 2020 of simply returning the United States to 1990 level emissions.
But Stern said this would represent a 16 or 17 percent reduction compared to today's levels. And in terms of cost, US and EU efforts would be on a par, he added.
He also sought to dampen expectations, pointing out that he had been in his new job for less than six weeks.
"We are still very much in a listening mode, collecting ideas," his newly appointed deputy, Jonathan Pershing, told journalists.
The Obama team was also clearly at pains to avoid getting too far ahead of climate and energy legislation taking shape in the US Congress.
"Let me speak frankly here: it is in no one's interest to repeat the experience of Kyoto by delivering an agreement that won't gain sufficient support at home," Stern told the plenary session.
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.
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