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U.N. climate chief urges U.S. action

By Charles J. Hanley (Associated Press) - September 22, 2007

The Bush administration has made a “significant” shift on global warming, but still falls short on the “much more aggressive” policies needed to head off its damaging impact, the U.N. climate chief said Saturday.

“It’s very clear that we’re not on track,” Yvo de Boer told The Associated Press.

More than 70 presidents and prime ministers and 80 other national representatives are gathering here for Monday’s U.N. “climate summit.”

The unprecedented meeting comes in a year when a series of authoritative scientific reports warned of a drastically changed planet by 2100, from rising seas, drought and other factors, unless nations rein in their emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

Monday’s one-day session is designed to build political momentum toward progress at December’s annual U.N. climate treaty conference, in Bali, Indonesia, which many hope will launch negotiations for an emissions-reduction agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. Kyoto, which the U.S. rejects, set first-phase reduction quotas for 36 industrial nations.

On Thursday, the Bush administration convenes its own two-day meeting, with 15 other major “greenhouse” gas-emitting nations, to discuss ways to limit emissions.

De Boer, head of the U.N. climate treaty secretariat, cited the Washington meeting as another example of what he called “significant political change over the past year” in the Bush administration’s position.

He also pointed to January’s State of the Union address, which de Boer said showed Bush “recognizes that climate change is a global issue that needs a global answer.”

But skeptical environmentalists contend the Washington meeting — and planned further meetings involving this limited number of countries — may undercut the global negotiating process at Bali.

They see no sign the U.S. leadership is backing away from its opposition to Kyoto-style mandatory emissions cutbacks, which Bush objects would damage the U.S. economy and should also have been imposed on such fast-growing poorer countries as China and India.

The U.S. administration instead has promoted voluntary emissions reductions by U.S. industry and development of clean-energy technology.

But to spur industry into developing and accepting such technologies, a binding treaty’s mandated cutbacks are needed, de Boer said in the interview. A “purely voluntary, disaggregated approach” won’t work, he said.

The U.N. climate chief expressed hope that, as Bush has said, the new, U.S.-led parallel track will “feed back into the process at Bali.” But he also suggested time is short.

This year’s “very stark” reports by a U.N.-sponsored scientific network make “very clear that we’re not on track in terms of addressing this issue, and much more aggressive policies will have to be put in place, not just in rich countries like the U.S., but also in emerging economies of the south,” he said.

Asked whether the Bali conference could launch negotiations on a post-2012 treaty regime without a U.S. commitment, de Boer said that didn’t “make sense.”

“It would be very difficult for the big developing countries like China, India, Brazil to comprehend why they should be acting to limit the growth of their emissions in the context of an agreement of which the U.S. is not part.”