U.S. climate envoy takes aim at developing nations

WASHINGTON Wed Nov 4, 2009 6:00pm EST

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern arrives to give a news conference after attending a private meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in Cuernavaca, in Mexico's state of Morelo, June 23, 2009. REUTERS/Henry Romero

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern arrives to give a news conference after attending a private meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in Cuernavaca, in Mexico's state of Morelo, June 23, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Henry Romero

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As a top American diplomat accused developing countries of inaction on global warming, a coalition of senators on Wednesday stepped up efforts to break a political deadlock that has choked U.S. steps on climate change.

Todd Stern, President Barack Obama's top climate negotiator and envoy to next month's international climate summit in Copenhagen, used blunt language in testimony to Congress when he zeroed in on developing countries' participation in talks.

Some developing countries are "hiding behind a misreading" of language in two key climate documents, the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 2007 Bali Action Plan, which recognize different responsibilities and capabilities for rich and poor countries, Stern told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

"What is not helpful is the way some developing countries ... focus more on citing chapter and verse of dubious interpretations ... designed to prove that they don't have any responsibility for action now, rather than thinking through pragmatic ways to find common ground to start solving the problem," Stern said.

Rich and poor countries will try to make progress in Copenhagen on a coordinated effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In Barcelona, where countries are meeting in a final preparatory session, developing countries said they risked "total destruction" from environmental disasters unless rich countries promised much tougher action on global warming.

In the Senate, where efforts to reduce U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have been delayed for months, a bipartisan group of senators held meetings with Obama administration officials to begin sketching out a compromise they hope can win broad support this year or next.

"Our effort is to try to reach out; to broaden the base of support" for a bill, said Democratic Senator John Kerry, who is leading the effort.

He is working with conservative Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and independent Senator Joseph Lieberman.

CARBON TRADE, NUCLEAR POWER

Besides looking at creating a market for companies to trade an ever-decreasing number of carbon pollution permits, the senators are working with the White House on ways to expand the U.S. nuclear power industry through government incentives.

They are also discussing allowing more offshore oil and natural gas exploration and boosting research into how to cleanly burn abundant U.S. supplies of coal.

"Part of this initiative is to create a vision for energy independence and marry it up with responsible ... carbon pollution controls," Graham told reporters.

Asked whether the United States would be able to sign on to a global agreement in Copenhagen, Stern said progress was "too slow." But he added, "I think we have a fair distance yet to go, but I actually think there is a deal to be done."

As Stern testified, a bill that would mandate a 20 percent reduction in U.S. smokestack emissions of carbon dioxide by 2020 was stalled.

Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee boycotted a work session on the climate bill for a second day, insisting they needed more detailed analysis of the measure's economic impact.

Their efforts won the backing of some moderate Republicans, who could be key to a future compromise. Senators Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Judd Gregg wrote the Environmental Protection Agency calling for the additional analysis "prior to any action" in the environment committee. Graham also signed the letter.

The Republican boycott prompted Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse to declare: "The party of 'no' has devolved to the party of 'no-show.'"

He was referring to Republicans' opposition to most of Obama's major initiatives, including healthcare reform, economic stimulus and climate change bills.

The committee's chairman Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, hopes for a vote soon to approve her bill soon to give a boost to the U.S. negotiating position in Copenhagen.

(Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; editing by Chris Wilson)

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