US brings big polluters together after tough Bali talks

Other News Materials 29 January 2008 08:25 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - It is a meeting that Europeans threatened to boycott in a particularly tense moment of last month's UN-sponsored Bali talks on climate change.

Europe's gamble secured the last-minute US agreement on a Bali "road map," a document that formally launched talks on a global climate-change regime to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

On Wednesday, European nations will repay the favour, joining a two-day meeting of the world's 16 leading polluters, hosted by the United States in Hawaii. It is an initiative that began in September, when top officials from the same 16 countries - the key players in any global deal tackling climate change - met in Washington to seek common ground.

This week's gathering in Honolulu, Hawaii will be less high- powered. Many countries including France and Germany are not even sending their environment ministers, but the White House still views the meeting as a key venue to assess the results from Bali and consider methods to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions blamed for global warming.

The Hawaii gathering will hone in on "a few key areas from the Bali road map where the major economies can make a detailed contribution to be brought into the UN negotiations," Jim Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and head of the US delegation, told reporters last week.

Environmentalists have voiced concerns that the so-called Major Emitters Meeting could be an effort to water-down the United Nations process - an attempt by the US to keep the discussion of climate change measures on its own terms.

The White House has said it should be up to individual countries to pick their method for reducing emissions and encouraging alternative energies, and has shied away from binding targets sought by the Europeans and United Nations.

"The administration brings to this initiative a specific vision of the post-2012 framework ­ one based on nationally defined programmes, rather than binding international commitments," Elliot Diringer, international director of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, told a US Senate hearing last week.

"There was little indication at the first major economies meeting in September that other countries support this approach."

But Connaughton insisted that Washington remains committed to the UN talks and will use its own separate process to move on from Bali and hammer out the key elements of a global deal by the end of 2008.

Bali called for an international, post-Kyoto agreement to be signed by the end of 2009, allowing enough time for countries to ratify the deal before Kyoto expires.

"It's the work we do this year that makes reaching international agreement in 2009 possible. And that underscores the importance of the major economies process," Connaughton said.

The key US concern from Bali, and already before, has been that developing countries must be given emissions-reduction targets along with industrial nations.

President George W Bush in his annual State of the Union speech Monday said that no major economy should be given a "free ride" in tackling climate change - an implicit knock on developing major emitters like China and India.

China, India, Brazil and Indonesia have all been invited to the Hawaii gathering. Their role, as well as that of industrial nations, will be a key topic Wednesday.

"In Bali, one of the key focal points was, are all the major countries willing to take actions that are measurable, reportable and verifiable? And I think we'll be getting into that discussion a little bit, what that means," Connaughton said.