Europeans Raise Ante at Bali Climate Talks
U.S. Stance on Emissions Targets Prompts Threat to Boycott Bush Forum

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 14, 2007

NUSA DUA, Indonesia, Dec. 14 -- European leaders, angered by the growing impasse here over the U.S. refusal to accept any specific targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, threatened Thursday to boycott the parallel climate negotiations that President Bush launched with great fanfare in September.

The deadlock underscored the sharp divide at this week's Bali climate change conference between the United States, supported by Canada and Japan, and most of the rest of the industrialized world, but efforts continued overnight to come up with a consensus "road map" toward achieving a new global warming treaty by 2009.

The Bali meeting was designed to be the first step in that two-year process, but throughout the week Bush administration officials have steadily resisted a U.N. proposal calling on industrialized countries to accept an initial goal of reducing their emissions by 25 to 40 percent by 2020. In retaliation, several European officials said they might not attend the next session of the White House-sponsored Major Economies Meeting on global warming, which is set to resume next month in Honolulu.

Leaders of the developing world, meanwhile, including the burgeoning economies of China, India and Brazil, said they would continue to resist pollution-reducing commitments of their own as long as the United States balks at setting targets for itself.

In an interview Thursday, Germany's environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said it would not make sense for Bush to continue the separate talks he initiated unless negotiators make progress here in defining the range of emissions cuts they need to consider.

"If we will not find a solution here in Bali, I cannot see what we should negotiate in the major economies meetings," Gabriel said. "If you want to organize a road map, you should know where is the destination."

In a sign of how badly relations have deteriorated between the United States and other nations over the issue, delegates to the U.N.-sponsored talks in Bali burst into applause Thursday night when former vice president Al Gore blamed the Bush administration for jeopardizing the negotiations and alluded to the end of Bush's term in office in just over a year.

In a 48-minute speech, Gore urged the delegates to "go far, quickly" in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, saying they should forge ahead with a consensus statement and leave "a large open space in your document" to allow a future U.S. president to work more aggressively to curb global warming.

"My country's been responsible for obstructing the process here in Bali, we know that," he said to a crowd that overflowed the hall, forcing some people to sit on the floor. "Over the next two years, the United States is going to be somewhere where it is not now. You must anticipate that."

Gore pushed delegates not to abandon the process altogether, urging them, instead, to "negotiate around this enormous obstacle, this elephant in the room."

It was not immediately clear whether the speech by Gore, who on Monday collected the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo for his global warming activism, would have an impact on the Bali talks, which are deadlocked over the question of how much industrialized and developing nations must do respectively to reduce emissions that contribute to Earth's warming trend.

Bush administration officials said they remain committed to producing a document that would allow industrialized and developing nations to explore a range of options for curbing climate change.

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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