DOHA (Reuters) - The United States said on Monday it was on track to meet its own target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, a plan many scientists say is still too weak to avert damaging global warming.
U.S. envoy Todd Stern defended President Barack Obama's environmental record following renewed criticism from the European Union and other delegates at a climate conference in Doha.
He said the Democratic administration was making progress, despite Republican opposition, citing a study suggesting levels were heading lower, thanks partly to tougher standards for vehicles and more use of renewable energy.
"There is more that can be done but there has been a great deal already," Stern told reporters at the 200-nation summit focused on salvaging U.N.-led action to cut rising world greenhouse gas emissions.
"We are making good progress and I think we are on track," he said of Obama's plan to cut U.S. emissions by at least 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 - Washington's contribution to global efforts to avert rising temperatures, floods, droughts, heat waves and mounting sea levels.
Republican opposition blocked ratification of Obama's plan by the Senate in 2009.
Obama's target works out as a cut of about 3-4 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.
A study by the U.N. panel of climate scientists in 2007 indicated rich nations would have to cut emissions by 25-to-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to avert a damaging rise in temperatures. Almost none have set such deep cuts.
An economic slowdown in the Unites States and a switch to natural gas from coal also have put Obama's targets more in reach.
But some studies indicate that Washington is still wide of its target. Last week, a Climate Action Tracker, compiled by Europe-based research groups including Ecofys, said Washington was failing.
"We based ourselves only on policies that are fully decided and implemented," Niklas Hoehne of Ecofys told Reuters.
European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said most focus in Doha was on a small group, led by the European Union and Australia, that aims to stick with the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol for cutting emissions of industrialized nations beyond 2012.
But those nations account for less than 15 percent of world emissions. Kyoto has been weakened by the withdrawal of Russia, Japan and Canada, who say an extension is meaningless since big emerging nations led by China and India have no goals.
Washington never ratified Kyoto.
"It's also very important not to forget about the remaining 85 percent of emissions," Hedegaard told a news conference. "What are they doing?"
She said that China's per capita greenhouse gas emissions had risen to 7.3 tonnes per capita, almost level with those of the EU on 7.5. U.S. emissions per capita were far higher at 17.3 tonnes while those of Russia were 12.8 tonnes.
The EU itself was on target, she said for a promised cut at least 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Experts say the EU's environmental performance was boosted by the collapse of Soviet-era smokestack industries in eastern European countries.
Writing by Alister Doyle, additional reporting by Andrew Allan; Editing by Andrew Heavens