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UN: US states, cities can impact climate

By Charles J. Hanley (Associated Press) - December 7, 2007

Despite Bush administration reluctance, U.S. states and cities could make an American “national commitment” to a new global agreement to cut greenhouse gases, the chief U.N. climate scientist said Friday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Rajendra Pachauri said the U.S. approach to climate change might be altered by the upcoming presidential election or by the combined actions of states and cities.

Pachauri, whose Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore, spoke with AP during the U.N. climate conference on this resort island.

More than 180 nations are assembled to try to launch negotiations on an agreement for future reductions in carbon dioxide and other industrial, transportation and agricultural gases blamed for global warming.

The Indian climatologist, chairman of the IPCC, is heading to Norway to accept the Peace Prize on Monday on behalf of his panel, which is a network of 2,000 climate and other scientists.

Later in the two-week conference, Pachauri and Gore will make separate appeals for decisive steps toward a new regime of deeper emissions cutbacks to succeed the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.

The 1997 Kyoto accord required 36 industrial nations to reduce emissions by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The United States is the only industrial nation to reject Kyoto; President Bush says the required cuts would damage the U.S. economy.

The U.S. delegation in Bali has indicated no change in that position. However, “there’s much that’s happened in the U.S.” at congressional, state and local levels, Pachauri said.

California last year adopted a sweeping law requiring reductions of about 25 percent in greenhouse gases by 2020. New York and nine other Northeastern states are putting caps on power-plant emissions and developing a system to trade emissions allowances. And just last month, five Midwestern states announced a joint program to reduce emissions.

At the local level across the United States, city governments have introduced significant measures to rein in carbon emissions.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to reduce his city’s emissions by 30 percent by 2030, by requiring taxis to switch to gas-saving hybrid vehicles, for example, and most controversially by proposing fees for vehicles to enter lower Manhattan.

Seattle claims city operations have cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 60 percent through motor pools of hybrid cars, trucks using biodiesel fuel and other measures.

Pachauri said he saw two paths for the United States.

“One would be, let’s say, the U.S. administration committing itself to certain actions,” he said. “The other approach would be, independent of what the U.S. administration does, several states in the U.S. and several other entities over there decide to take action on their own, and the sum total of that would amount to a commitment, you could say, equivalent to a national commitment.”

In addition, he said, “the U.S. is in for a presidential election that really would have some bearing on what the outcome is in these negotiations” over the next two years.

Presidential candidates in both the Republican and Democratic parties favor mandatory caps on U.S. emissions, and a U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would — if not vetoed by Bush — impose a cap-and-trade system nationwide.

Some analysts have suggested a new international deal on climate, because of an American aversion to international controls, might have to accommodate a U.S. caps system lying outside a treaty-bound regime obligating other nations to emissions caps.

Asked what might happen if world governments fail to act decisively on climate, Pachauri referred to the landmark findings of his panel’s 2007 reports.

The “inevitable consequences,” he said, are “clearly not in the interest of the human species and other species that inhabit this planet,” including mass extinctions of plants and animals and sharp rises in sea level because of warmer, expanding water and the runoff of melted land ice.

“And that’s really an irreversible change,” he said.