U.N. climate pact seen hinging on deeper CO2 cuts

BONN Wed Aug 12, 2009 1:12pm EDT

Steam and other emissions are seen coming from funnels at an oil refinery in Melbourne July 7, 2009. Across the globe an emerging El Nino weather pattern threatens to cause droughts and floods and trigger a spike in planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from burning forests. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas

Steam and other emissions are seen coming from funnels at an oil refinery in Melbourne July 7, 2009. Across the globe an emerging El Nino weather pattern threatens to cause droughts and floods and trigger a spike in planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from burning forests.

Credit: Reuters/Mick Tsikas

BONN (Reuters) - A U.N. climate deal due in December will be a flop unless industrialized nations sharply increase promised cuts in greenhouse gas emissions for 2020, the chair of a key U.N. group said on Wednesday.

John Ashe, who leads work at Aug 10-14 U.N. climate talks looking at planned cuts by rich nations, said existing pledges were far short of the range of 25-40 percent below 1990 levels outlined by a U.N. scientific panel as required to avoid the worst of climate change.

"It would be difficult to fall outside that range and judge the outcome as a success," Ashe told Reuters at the 180-nation meeting. Ashe is also Antigua and Barbuda's ambassador to the United Nations.

"Based on pledges that are currently on the table, achieving 25 percent is looking quite a stretch," Ashe said of the negotiations, part of a series meant to end with a new U.N. climate pact in Copenhagen in December.

So far, promises by those in the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol -- all industrialized nations except the United States -- amount to total cuts of between 15 and 21 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels, according to the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat.

Adding the United States would reduce the overall level of ambition since President Barack Obama's goal is to cut emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. They rose sharply under his two predecessors.

The meeting is the first at which all developed nations have put offers on the table -- New Zealand and Russia were lacking at the last U.N. climate talks in June.

Many developing nations, such as China and India, say that the rich should cut emissions by at least 40 percent, arguing that evidence of climate change is getting stronger such as a summer thaw of Arctic ice. Small island states, including Antigua and Barbuda, want cuts of at least 45 percent.

Any new pact needs to be approved unanimously by more than 190 nations.

The 25 to 40 percent range was identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 as that needed to avert the worst of global warming -- more heatwaves, floods, droughts, spread of disease and rising sea levels.

BOXED IN BY CRISIS

Ashe said the economic downturn was hitting ambitions for combating global warming. "There is a sense of urgency in the talks on climate change but I think we have been boxed in a bit by the economic crisis," he said.

He said more progress might be possible after a meeting of Group of 20 leaders in the U.S. city of Pittsburgh in late September. The meeting will include discussion of how to help developing nations cope with climate change.

"There's a ray of hope from Pittsburgh," he said. "We need to do something on the finance and technology side to unlock the negotiations."

Under the IPCC projections, developing nations such as China and India will need to slow the rise in their emissions by 2020, stopping short of absolute cuts.

-- For Reuters latest environment blogs click on: blogs.reuters.com/environment/

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

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