ARLINGTON, Virginia President Barack Obama's climate envoy said on Thursday world powers shouldn't get bogged down on a deadline for greenhouse gas emission cuts at the upcoming global climate talks, but instead should take small steps that could lead to a broader agreement.
"I don't personally think so," Todd Stern, the top U.S. climate negotiator, told reporters after a two-day meeting of the Major Economies Forum, when asked if there should be a deadline. "I think it should get done when it's ripe."
It was the last meeting of the group of 17 economies, including China, India, Russia and countries in the European Union, that debate ways to fight emissions before annual United Nations climate talks that run from Nov 29. to December 10 in Cancun, Mexico.
With the 2012 expiration looming for the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, some countries have pressed for a pact on binding emissions cuts by next year's climate talks in South Africa.
If that goal is out of reach, they say a deadline on agreeing to a binding pact should be set to help speed negotiations.
"I would rather have the concrete stuff done while we are trying to get the legal treaty than say we are not going to do anything before we get the legal agreement," Stern said.
Rich and developing countries can take steps in Cancun to help build trust on fighting emissions, he said.
These include agreeing on a global system to monitor, report, and verify emissions and the architecture of a fund to help developing countries deal with the worst effects of climate change.
Agreeing on systems to ensure technology transfers between rich and poor nations to mitigate and adapt to global warming and to fight deforestation are also areas where progress could be made in Cancun, he said.
The United States is not a member of the Kyoto pact that binds other developed countries to cut emissions of gases that cause global warming, which could lead to more floods and droughts.
Still, Obama pledged at last year's U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen that the United States would cut emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. That is about a 3 percent reduction from 1990 levels, the baseline used by many other countries, including those in the EU that have agreed to stronger cuts.
Stern reiterated that Washington would stick to that pledge despite the U.S. Congress' failure to pass a bill to deal with climate change. With Republicans winning control of the House of Representatives in this month's elections, chances are now even more remote a climate change bill will be considered.
The Obama administration is taking steps to cut emissions from vehicles and from smokestack industries like power plants and cement manufacturers.
An increase in the number of climate change deniers in Congress after this month's elections is something the U.S. will have to get through, Stern said.
Since binding cuts are off the table for the Cancun talks and the two biggest emitters -- China and the United States -- remain at odds on how to fight emissions, some analysts have said the coming talks will serve as a referendum on whether the U.N. process has been a failure.
Stern allowed that the U.N. talks must make more progress. "The process can't continually stalemate," he said. "If we can't make any progress this year or next year there will be a point it won't work."
(Editing by Russell Blinch and Chris Wilson)