US Close to Climate Agreement

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The United States appears to be edging towards an agreement with other countries over further talks on how to combat climate change.

US negotiators said they were within reach of a deal, having earlier walked out of talks in Montreal, Canada. They appeared ready to accept that new talks should begin on cutting greenhouse gases beyond Kyoto targets – provided they were non-binding. Earlier, former President Bill Clinton said the US approach was “flat wrong”.

After Mr Clinton’s remarks – which were warmly received – the official US team appeared to shift its position.

“Basically there is an agreement,” US negotiator Harlan Watson said late on Friday night, after talks continued past the scheduled end of nearly two weeks of negotiations.

But he said that last-minute Russian objections were holding up a comprehensive agreement.

‘Meet and surpass’

The US government appears to have been stung by negative coverage in its own media following its walkout, and the strong attack by Mr Clinton, the BBC’s environment correspondent Tim Hirsch says from Montreal.

Mr Clinton attacked a central plank of the Bush administration’s resistance to targets for cutting emissions – that it would harm the US economy.

If the US “had a serious, disciplined effort to apply on a large scale existing clean energy and energy conservation technologies… we could meet and surpass the Kyoto targets easily in a way that would strengthen, not weaken, our economies,” he said.

Global warming and melting ice, he suggested, could lead to a future climate conference in Canada being held on “a raft somewhere”.

Last week delegates finalised a rule book for Kyoto, formally making it fully operational after years of negotiation and ratification.

The 1997 treaty commits industrialised countries to cut their combined carbon emissions to 5% below 1990 levels by the years 2008 – 2012.

The Montreal agreement would give the 157 Kyoto signatory-states seven years to negotiate and ratify new measures.

‘Brakes off’

Canadian Environment Minister Stephane Dion has proposed “dialogue workshops”, to take place in late 2006 and 2007, that would discuss how to reach current Kyoto targets and set new ones.

Even if the US joins future climate change talks, it has still not budged on its opposition to the Kyoto treaty, and faced heavy criticism for its stance.

Jennifer Morgan, climate-change expert for environmental group WWF, said that Mr Watson’s decision to leave the talks overnight showed “just how willing the US administration is to walk away from a healthy planet and its responsibilities”.

Some activists are angry that in order to get the US on board, the Montreal protocol is unlikely to specify any goals or measures to combat global warming in future.

The US rejected the criticism.

“If you want to talk about global consciousness, I’d say there’s one country that is focused on action… dialogue… cooperation and… helping the developing world, and that’s the United States,” said state department spokesman Adam Ereli in Washington.

Despite the row, environmentalists said the conference had been in most respects a success, reaching agreements on how to quantify gas emissions and how to penalise nations for failing to meet Kyoto targets.

“They’ve released the brakes on the Kyoto process,” said Greenpeace International’s Bill Hare.

Source: BBC Online