U.S. plays down hopes at climate talks

BONN, Germany (Reuters) - U.S. negotiators tried to dampen expectations on Wednesday of rapid progress on climate change after President Barack Obama vowed new U.S. leadership, on the closing day of U.N. talks in Bonn.

A car drives near the Karabashmed copper smelter in the Ural town of Karabash, one of the most polluted places on the planet, March 15, 2009. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The 11-day meeting was the latest in a series meant to help prepare a deal to be sealed in Copenhagen in December to replace or extend the Kyoto Protocol after 2012.

Obama vowed U.S. leadership on climate change on a trip to Europe last week, raising hopes.

But in Bonn, Germany, the reality was complex negotiations with fewer than nine months left to sign a global deal to curb man-made climate change, and U.S. officials stressed how hard the job was.

“The negotiations are just starting, this is a complicated subject,” said the new U.S. deputy special envoy for climate change, Jonathan Pershing.

“The simple headline that temperatures are rising captures the public imagination as it ought, but the difficulties, complexities, the nuance of what you do about it requires a great deal of time, energy and sophistication.”

“Finding common ground will take some time.”

Developing nations complained that the Bonn talks delivered neither an indication of emissions targets for rich countries nor pledges to fund emissions cuts in the South, as some had hoped.


Poorer countries say the rich world has earned its wealth from two centuries of industrialization, spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the process. They want the North to act first and help pay for carbon cuts in the South.

“We’re very disappointed,” China’s climate ambassador, Yu Qingtai, told Reuters.

“We came to Bonn this time hoping that we’ll finally focus on the central mandate of this working group,” he said, referring to a negotiating group meant to establish ranges of future carbon cuts by developed nations.

Pershing accepted that many developing countries needed help to cope.

“We take seriously our responsibility to work with those countries to move them forward,” he said.

The Bonn meeting launched on Wednesday full negotiations on the text of a new climate pact, as expected, setting the scene for full negotiations on a new climate deal at the next U.N.-led meeting in June.

Obama set an election campaign target to bring U.S. greenhouse gases back to 1990 levels by 2020. It was “improbable” that the U.S. Congress would finalize that target by June, said Pershing.

The pace of progress in Bonn disappointed environmentalists and green groups.

Reporting by Gerard Wynn