Countries Meet to Negotiate Global Climate Pact

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 28, 2009; 7:20 PM

Representatives from the world's major emitters of greenhouse gases wrapped up two days of talks in Washington today, saying they had made modest progress toward their goal of reaching a global climate pact in December.

The meeting of 17 nations -- one of three preliminary meetings before world leaders meet in Italy in July -- represented the relaunch of a process that former President George W. Bush initiated to address global warming outside of the formal United Nations climate negotiations. The Obama administration decided to continue the sessions, now called the Major Economies Forum, as a way of building what Obama deputy national security adviser Michael Froman called "political momentum for the development and deployment" of new, low-carbon technologies, as well as for the U.N talks.

Delegates from an array of nations described the two-day session as a trust-building exercise in which representatives could share blunt perspectives about how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

Shyam Saran, special envoy for Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, said the meeting amounted to "a very candid airing of the different national circumstances that we face," adding that this allowed delegates "to begin the process of building trust among the major players."

The talks, which included scientific presentations by Energy Secretary Steven Chu and White House scientific adviser John Holdren as well as a White House meeting with President Obama and an address by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, focused mainly on how much industrialized and developing nations could cut their greenhouse gas emissions in the near- and long-term.

"I come out of this meeting if anything a bit more optimistic," said Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change. "That does not change the fact that the issues are extremely difficult, that it's not going to be easy to reach an agreement."

Sigmar Gabriel, German Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety said the contrast between this week's meeting and the earlier sessions the Bush administration convened amounted to "the difference between day and night, if we look back two years," because the United States offered a concrete proposal for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and said the science behind human-induced warming is no longer debatable.

Obama has pledged to bring U.S. emissions down to 1990 levels by 2020, a cut of roughly 15 percent from current levels but far short of the 20 percent reduction below 1990 levels that the European Union has identified as its minimum target. Stern told reporters that delegates were aware of both Obama's pledge at the fact that the House Energy and Commerce Committee is now considering legislation with a 2020 target of a 20 percent reduction compared to 2005 levels, which translates into roughly a 6 percent reduction compared to 1990 levels. Both the White House and House Democrats have pledged to cut greenhouse gases by about 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 .

"You've effectively got a United States number there, it's somewhere in that range," Stern said, referring to both Obama's and the House Democrats' goal. "There's no mystery."

Gabriel said that while no one who participated in the talks "wants to blame the new government," he and others made it clear they want Washington to adopt a more ambitious climate reduction target as part of the global negotiations.

"This is a completely different approach," he said of America's domestic climate goal. "Nevertheless we said, 'This is not enough.'"

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