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Europeans Raise Ante at Bali Climate Talks

Former vice president Al Gore told delegates to the climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia, not to abandon the process because of U.S. resistance now, urging them to
Former vice president Al Gore told delegates to the climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia, not to abandon the process because of U.S. resistance now, urging them to "negotiate around this enormous obstacle, this elephant in the room." In two years, he said, "the United States is going to be somewhere where it is not now." (By Dita Alangkara -- Associated Press)

Late Thursday night, the U.S. delegation proposed eliminating binding targets from the framework altogether and asked industrialized and developing countries to instead adopt, "as appropriate, quantified national emission limitation and reduction objectives, taking into account national circumstances and relative level of efforts."

In a closed-door meeting here Friday morning with congressional officials, U.S. senior climate negotiator Harlan L. Watson told Democratic aides they should be grateful the United States was resisting mandatory emissions targets. "I'm doing you a favor," he said, according to a participant. "I'm doing the country a favor."

Asked about the European leaders' threat, Kristen Hellmer, spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said, "Such comments are not very constructive when we are working so hard to find common ground on a way forward."

James L. Connaughton, who chairs the council, said the proposal to "magically find an agreement" by setting targets at the outset of the negotiating process "in itself is a blocking effort.

"We will lead. The U.S. will lead," Connaughton said. "But leadership also requires others to fall in line and follow."

But only a handful of countries have expressed an interest in following America's lead in the Bali talks. Everton Vieira Vargas, Brazil's undersecretary general for political affairs, said that rapidly industrializing nations such as his should not be expected to make significant cuts in emissions if the United States is unwilling to do so.

"I am of the view any success in this process is directly linked to industrialized countries taking deeper and more robust obligations under the Kyoto Protocol," Vargas said, referring to the 1997 climate pact that takes effect next year and expires in 2012. "Ironically, one country that's not part of the Kyoto Protocol is trying to get the same responsibilities as developing countries. It sounds strange to us."

The United States took part in drafting the Kyoto pact, but it was repudiated by Bush in 2001.

Denmark's climate and energy minister, Connie Hedegaard, said in an interview Thursday that including short-term emissions reduction targets of at least 25 percent in any final agreement here remains "one of the bottom lines the European Union has got.

"It's not some figures taken at random," she said. Referring to the scientific findings of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the Nobel Prize with Gore, Hedegaard added that the target of 25 to 40 percent "reports very specifically back to what the IPCC tells us."

John Coequyt, an energy specialist for the advocacy group Greenpeace USA, said the Europeans were signaling that they might abandon Bush's major economies meeting because "it's the only piece of real leverage that they have" with the United States.

The negotiators did reach agreement Thursday on establishing a "strategic program" to aid transfers of clean technologies to poor nations, and some said they remained optimistic that a broad deal could be brokered at the last minute. The talks were due to end Friday.

"At least we now agree climate change is a damaging environmental threat," Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said. "We agree something has to be done."

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