U.S. Won't Join in Binding Climate Talks

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 11, 2005

MONTREAL, Dec. 10 -- Despite the Bush administration's adamant resistance, nearly every industrialized nation agreed early Saturday to engage in talks aimed at producing a new set of binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions that would take effect beginning in 2012.

In a separate accord, a broader coalition of nearly 200 nations -- including the United States -- agreed to a much more modest "open and nonbinding" dialogue that would not lead to any "new commitments" to reduce carbon dioxide emissions associated with climate change.

The outcome of Saturday's negotiations -- which nearly collapsed at the eleventh hour after Russia and the United States raised separate objections -- underscored the promise and limits of international talks aimed at confronting one of the world's most far-reaching problems. The results also showed that foreign negotiators have concluded they must press ahead without the Bush administration's assent on the assumption that a burgeoning grass-roots movement will eventually bring the United States back to the negotiating table.

Margaret Beckett, Britain's environment secretary, warned reporters in the past week that such negotiations often offer "first false euphoria, followed by false despair." But on Saturday she said the two pacts prove policymakers have finally summoned the political will to combat global warming.

"The reason why collectively the world community succeeded here is because the debate itself is changing on the costs and benefits of climate change," Beckett said. "There is growing recognition of the costs of not taking action and of the opportunities that come with taking action itself."

But other parties to the agreements, which came at the end of a two-week conference sponsored by the United Nations, question whether they will have much impact, and prominent scientists such as James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, warn that nations may need to make deeper emissions cuts in the coming decade if they hope to avoid even more damaging warming. In a speech Dec. 6 in San Francisco, Hansen said, "Action must be prompt" to avoid a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that "will make it impractical to keep further global warming" within sustainable limits.

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