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U.N. says greenhouse gas cuts encouraging

OSLO (Reuters) - Rich nations have outlined “encouraging” cuts in greenhouse gas emissions so far but the United States and others may be able to make tougher curbs, the head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat said on Tuesday.

“One of the main points from now on is to see how ... far the level of ambition can be increased,” Yvo de Boer told Reuters, speaking of negotiations on a new U.N. pact to fight global warming due to be agreed in Copenhagen in December.

He said the marathon negotiations will get a spur from May 18, by when a first draft negotiating text is due to be published. The text will sum up submissions from governments in recent weeks.

He welcomed offers by developed nations in recent weeks, even though they are short of reductions of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 outlined by a U.N. panel of scientists to avoid the worst of global warming.

“Given that a Copenhagen agreement is not yet in sight I think we have an encouraging (set) of numbers on the table from industrialized countries,” he said in a telephone interview.

Among reasons, “there are countries that have purely looked at potential domestic emission reduction commitments and have not included offsets or action abroad, such as the United States,” he said. Action abroad could enable deeper reductions.

Under the U.N.’s existing Kyoto Protocol, for instance, developed countries can get credit for investing in cleaner technologies such as hydropower, solar panels or wind turbines that cut emissions in developing nations.

OBAMA

President Barack Obama has promised to cut U.S. emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020 -- a cut of about 14 percent from 2007 levels as part of the global drive to combat warming that may bring more heatwaves, floods and rising seas.

De Boer declined to say how much deeper Washington might be able to cut with an “expanded toolbox” of actions but said that some studies by U.S. experts suggested it could add several percentage points.

Reuters calculations show that offers so far by developed nations work out at total cuts of between nine and 16 percent below 1990 levels, including ranges offered by the European Union and Australia. Analysts say recession has dimmed willingness for tough action.

But de Boer said it was wrong to conclude ambition was falling short, with many uncertainties and six months left. Some nations such as Russia and Japan have yet to announce their greenhouse goals, he noted.

“To say that we are still a long way away from the minus 25 to 40 would be moving a little faster than I’d feel comfortable with,” he said.

Australia said last week that it might deepen its offered cuts to 25 percent below 2000 levels by 2020 from a previously offered 5-15 percent if other nations went along.

And the European Union says it will cut emissions unilaterally by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and by 30 percent if others join in. The next round of talks is in Bonn from June 1-12.

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

Editing by Jon Hemming

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