Delegates from around the world worked into the final hours of a UN climate conference to produce a plan for deeper cuts after 2012 in greenhouse-gas emissions, buoyed by a last-minute message of support from former US President Bill Clinton.
Clinton, in an applause-filled appearance at the Montreal meeting yesterday, said US President George W. Bush was ”flat wrong” to claim that reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to fight global warming would damage the US economy.
But the ex-president urged the negotiators from more than 180 nations to find a way to “work with” the current US administration.
Throughout the two-week conference, the Bush administration repeatedly rejected Canadian and other efforts to draw it into future global talks on emission controls, just as in 2001 it renounced the existing Kyoto Protocol and its mandatory cuts.
Canadian officials said the US delegation was displeased with the last-minute scheduling of the Clinton speech. But US delegation chief Paula Dobriansky issued a statement saying events like Clinton’s appearance “are useful opportunities to hear a wide range of views on global climate change”.
Despite Clinton’s message, many here seemed resigned to waiting for a political change in Washington.
“It’s such a pity the US is still very much unwilling to join the international community, to have a multilateral effort to deal with climate change,” said the leader of the African group of nations here, Kenya’s Emily Ojoo Massawa.
“The administration just doesn’t seem to get it. They don’t understand the world is suffering from climate change,” said Jennifer Morgan of the environmentalist group Climate Action Network.
The US delegation had little public comment, maintaining the low profile it has generally kept at recent annual climate conferences.
This was the first such meeting since the Kyoto Protocol took effect last February, mandating cutbacks in 35 industrialised nations of emissions of carbon dioxide and five other gases by 2012.
A broad scientific consensus agrees that these gases accumulating in the atmosphere, by-products of automobile engines, power plants and other fossil fuel-burning industries, contributed significantly to the past century’s global temperature rise – of 0.7 degrees Celsius, or 1 degree Fahrenheit.
Continued warming is melting glaciers worldwide, shrinking the Arctic ice cap and heating up the oceans, raising sea levels, scientists say. They predict major climate disruptions in coming decades.
Clinton’s former vice president, Al Gore, was instrumental in negotiating the treaty protocol initialled in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan – a pact that the Senate subsequently refused to ratify. When Bush, taking office, rejected Kyoto outright, he complained that China, India and other major industrialising countries were not bound by its emission controls.
The protocol’s language required its member nations at this point to begin talks on presumably deeper emissions cuts for the next phase, after 2012.
Negotiations among the more than 150 nations that ratified Kyoto went on until dawn Friday and then resumed later in the day, as they hammered out final details of a plan whereby a working group would begin developing post-2012 proposals. The tentative document included no deadline for that work, but said it should be completed early enough to ensure that no gap develops after 2012.
That would guarantee an uninterrupted future for the burgeoning international “carbon market,” in which carbon reductions achieved by one company can be sold to another to help it meet its target.
At the same time, the host Canadians tried to draw in the Americans, Kyoto outsiders, on a parallel track, under the non-bonding 1992 UN climate treaty. Canada’s proposals offered vague, noncommittal language by which Washington would join only in a “dialogue” to “explore” co-operative action.
The US negotiators repeatedly rejected these efforts, however, and instead pointed to three-billion-dollar-a-year US government spending on research and development of energy-saving technologies as a demonstration of US efforts to combat climate change.
In a news conference after his speech, Clinton suggested that Europeans and others not force “targets” on Washington, but look for agreement on specific energy-saving projects.
“If we just keep working with the administration, we’ll find some specific things we can do that are consistent with the targets,” he said, but “without embracing the targets”.
Most of the conference was devoted to the nuts-and-bolts work of the climate pacts.
Environmentalists were pleased at agreements in such areas as how to quantify gas emissions and how to penalise nations that do not meet Kyoto targets.
“They’ve released the brakes on the Kyoto process,” said Greenpeace International’s Bill Hare.
Others expressed disappointment, meanwhile, there was not more progress here in such areas as helping finance developing countries’ adaptation to damaging climate change.