Ambitions for 2009 U.N. climate pact fade in Poznan

POZNAN, Poland (Reuters) - Recession and the change of U.S. administration make it unlikely the world will meet a 2009 deadline for agreeing a full new pact to fight global warming, delegates at U.N. climate talks say.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (2nd L) meets Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (2nd R) in Gdansk December 6, 2008. At right is France's Minister for Ecology Jean-Louis Borloo. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

A year ago, 190 nations signed up for a two-year push to agree a comprehensive climate treaty at talks in Copenhagen in late 2009. But negotiators and analysts attending preparatory December 1-12 talks in Poznan say that looks out of reach.

The most that many now hope for is agreement next year on the principles of a pact, though a few say this is too pessimistic.

“A suitable aspiration and a great achievement (in Copenhagen) would be agreement on the principles for negotiation, not a text,” said Robert Stavins, professor of business and government at Harvard University.

Recession means that developed nations’ greenhouse gas emissions will fall by about 2 percent next year, making other action less urgent, he said.

The 2009 deadline is meant to ensure that new targets for cutting emissions are in place in good time to allow worldwide ratification before Kyoto Protocol goals expire in 2012.

Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, insist that rich nations should agree in 2009 to cuts in emissions until 2020. But he also said any deal should be “ratifiable,” leaving much of the fine print for later.

De Boer said suggestions last week by a U.S. think-tank, the Pew Center, that 2009 was too early for President-elect Barack Obama to sign up for formal targets in Copenhagen were “unhelpful and incorrect.”

“Countries launched a negotiation in Bali a year ago and agreed to complete it in a year’s time in Copenhagen,” he told Reuters. “To begin to wobble on that resolve halfway through that process is not helpful.”


Obama has promised to cut U.S. emissions, almost 17 percent above 1990 levels in 2007, back to 1990 levels by 2020. That is far more ambitious than President George W. Bush, who foresaw emissions keeping rising until they peaked in 2025.

Obama could even increase the cuts if he introduced new measures such as investments in cutting greenhouse gases in developing nations, permitted under the Kyoto Protocol.

All sides say Obama will want to avoid President Bill Clinton’s mistakes over the Kyoto Protocol -- the administration agreed in 1997 to cuts of seven percent by 2012 but never submitted it to a hostile Senate for ratification.

“It does not work for us to agree to something internationally and expect our Congress to approve it,” said Harlan Watson, chief U.S. negotiator.

Some experts say December 2009 will be too early for the U.S. Senate to approve any laws.

The U.S. Senate voted 95-0 in 1997 against any international climate treaty which did not include all countries and which could harm the U.S. economy, and that view still holds.

“What I can say very bluntly is it has to be worldwide in application...and it should not result in a major hit in the U.S. economy which is already pretty sick,” said Republican U.S. Congressman James Sensenbrenner on the fringes of the U.N. talks.

“What is now a recession in the United States in my opinion will end up being a depression.”

But Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy, said he believed rich nations would be able to agree new targets in Copenhagen.

“I think you will get (rich nation) targets, the basic number, in Copenhagen,” he said.

“The worst case is that we don’t have agreement until 2011 (on a final deal)...and then maybe extend the existing Kyoto program to 2013 or 2014.”

Kyoto obliges 37 nations to cut emissions by at least 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Big developing states such as China and India want to see developed nations taking tough action before they start reining in their own rising emissions.

Editing by Tim Pearce and Angus MacSwan