Thursday, December 13, 2007

US accused of trying to halt global climate change deal

· Americans call for targets to be made voluntary
· Agreement at Bali unlikely amid fierce EU opposition

The US was last night accused of trying to derail a global agreement on climate change by proposing that it becomes a voluntary agreement where countries set their own targets and timetables for reductions of greenhouse gases, rather than a legally binding one.

With just one day left of the 14-day talks in Bali, it looks increasingly likely that no agreement will be reached by ministers. The proposed text, tabled late last night and leaked at around midnight local time, would effectively allow any nation to opt out of the next round of the Kyoto agreement. Observers last night said it could take climate change negotiations back more than a decade.

"These are wrecking tactics," said Keith Allott, Head of Climate Change at WWF-UK. "The stakes are now very high and they are proposing to destroy the protocol completely. The Bush administration is trying to kill real progress."

"This is an extraordinary attempt by the Bush administration to kill off the fight against climate change," said John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK. "If they get this text through, then it will give a free pass to any nation that wants to keep polluting."

The proposed US text uses phrases like "as appropriate", "depending" and "may" in reference to emissions cuts, which would effectively make any agreement reached voluntary. Last night it was understood that the US move was being supported by Canada but fiercely opposed by the EU and Britain.

Commenting on earlier American intransigence, James Connaughton, the senior US negotiator in Bali, said: "The US will lead, and we will continue to lead, but leadership also requires others to fall in line and follow."

Negotiators will now have an almost impossible task to reach consensus on the so-called "road map" for a new deal to come into force by 2013. Discussions in the past few days between the representatives of more than 180 countries have been overshadowed by an increasingly bitter row over carbon targets between the US and Europe, which escalated all day yesterday when EU officials demanded that Washington "wake up" over global warming.

In what was taken as a threat to boycott US-led talks on climate change between the world's biggest polluters next month in Hawaii, they warned that attending that meeting would be "senseless" unless the Bali agreement contains clear targets.

The US does not want a suggestion that industrialised countries cut emissions by 25% to 40% by 2020 included in the final document, which will provide the foundation for a new treaty on global warming after the Kyoto deal expires in 2012.

Stavros Dimas, the European commissioner for the environment, said that the cut in emissions for rich countries was an "indispensable" part of the text.

The Portuguese environment secretary, Humberto Rosa, said the EU was disappointed that the US was not prepared to accept the targets but he denied it was boycotting the US-led meeting. "We're not blackmailing anyone," he said. "No Bali, no meeting - we take it as logical, not blackmail."

Earlier, the former US vice-president Al Gore urged delegates to take urgent action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. "My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali," he said, calling for the new treaty to be implemented two years early, in 2010. He suggested the US stance might change, telling delegates to "save a blank space in your document" which could be filled later by a more amenable president.

EU officials argue the targets are crucial, because the world needs an idea of where it is heading; whereas Washington feels countries have been quick to agree targets and then failed to meet them.

The UN climate chief, Yvo de Boer, said he was worried that a final "Bali road map" would contain an agreement to negotiate a new climate deal by 2009, but no specific targets for emission reductions.

"What is a road map without a destination?" said Dimas. "Europe has long been leading the fight against climate change. Now is the time for other industrial nations to wake up and show leadership, not only in words but in deeds."

The US delegation said that although it rejects specific targets, it hopes to reach an "environmentally effective" and "economically sustainable" agreement.

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