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World Leaders to Discuss Strategies for Climate Control

In Thokoza township, near Johannesburg, electricity is not widely available. South Africa, currently exempt from Kyoto Protocol emissions caps, says it does not want to commit to reductions as it tries to bring power to poorer citizens.
In Thokoza township, near Johannesburg, electricity is not widely available. South Africa, currently exempt from Kyoto Protocol emissions caps, says it does not want to commit to reductions as it tries to bring power to poorer citizens. (By Iqbal Tladi -- Reuters)

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By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 27, 2005

The nations of the world will meet in Montreal this week to start discussing the next step in combating the global warming problem, hoping to devise a successor to the Kyoto Protocol that was scorned by the Bush administration in 2001. But the United States is saying it doesn't want to talk.

Despite the Bush administration's resistance, an assortment of U.S. elected officials, industry representatives and environmentalists are pushing to chart a new climate change strategy that will bring the United States back into international discussions while forcing developing countries to make meaningful cuts in their own carbon dioxide emissions. This push for a more flexible approach than Kyoto provided will be on full display in Montreal and could frame how the world confronts climate change in the years to come.

"Most people are ready to take the dialogue forward. The only place where that is not the case is the administration," said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Many advocates, analysts and policymakers are willing to move beyond the "one size fits all" approach of Kyoto, she added.

Climate experts such as Claussen are grappling with how best to proceed after 2012, when Kyoto -- which set a goal of cutting heat-trapping gases by 7 percent below 1990 levels by then -- expires. Scientists such as Princeton University's Michael Oppenheimer believe the world is in the middle of "the critical decade" in terms of curbing greenhouse gas emissions and needs to lock in carbon dioxide cuts soon before the warming trend has irreversible consequences.

"We do have a little time, but not much. . . . If we don't get a serious program in place for the long term in this second post-Kyoto phase, we will simply not make it and we will be crossing limits which will basically produce impacts that are unacceptable," Oppenheimer told reporters in a telephone conference call this month.

Starting tomorrow and continuing until Dec. 9, two overlapping groups will be meeting in Montreal: the 156 countries that signed Kyoto, which include every industrialized nation except the United States and Australia; and the 189 signatories to the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, a pact without binding emissions limits that the United States and Australia have both endorsed.

Negotiators are hoping to have talks about a post-Kyoto climate strategy under the auspices of the U.N. Framework Convention, the broader coalition. But Paula J. Dobriansky, the undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs, said the United States would prefer that each country to pursue its own way of curbing harmful emissions.

"We don't see the commencement of a negotiation process as contributing to progress now . . . given the differing positions held by parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change," she said. "One of the best ways forward is to allow for the development of different approaches."

The Bush administration has spent $20 billion on climate change programs since taking office, Dobriansky added, and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 0.8 percent between 2000 and 2003. "The United States is taking leadership here," she said, adding that it also is engaged in bilateral and regional climate talks.

Environmentalists are pressing negotiators in Montreal to begin sketching out a future climate strategy without the United States, leaving room for it to come aboard later. David Doniger, Climate Center policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, compared it to the launching of a ship in which other negotiators "want to reserve a stateroom" for the United States: "They would make a big mistake if they waited for the U.S. to get aboard."

Sharon Lee Smith, director general for policy at Environment Canada and one of the nation's lead delegates, said organizers want as many countries as possible to engage in post-Kyoto talks but will proceed even without the United States.

"There is a view Montreal is the time to talk about the future in more detail," Smith said. "We'll be pushing ahead."

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