World News

ANALYSIS - U.N. climate talks may need extra time in 2010

OSLO (Reuters) - World climate talks may need extra time next year to agree cuts in greenhouse emissions for 2020 since U.S. laws are unlikely to be in place before a U.N. meeting in Copenhagen in December, experts say.

Steam and emissions are seen coming out of a funnel at an oil refinery in Melbourne in this July 2, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas/Files

A deal from the 190-nation Dec. 7-18 talks may focus on finance to help developing nations confront global warming, technology and institutions. But a key goal of fixing country by country targets for the rich to curb emissions by 2020 may slip.

“There may have to be extra time,” said Nick Mabey, of the E3G think-tank in London, suggesting April 2010 as a deadline for a deal.

“You can do the details of institutions after that but not the fundamental deal, or it will start looking like Doha,” he said, referring to slow-moving trade talks. “You can have extra time only if the crowd is still in the stadium.”

A carbon-capping bill before the U.S. Senate is likely to clear some committees, but not the full Senate, this year, experts say. After it clears the Senate, it has to be reconciled with a House bill passed in June before it can be law.

A lack of clear U.S. numbers could have a knock-on effect.

Many other nations are reluctant to step up their ambitions in Copenhagen unless the United States, the biggest emitter behind China and the only developed nation outside the Kyoto Protocol for limiting emissions to 2012, signs up.

“A final agreement doesn’t appear in reach for Copenhagen but a solid agreement on the basic framework would be a huge step forward,” said Elliot Diringer of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.


He said Copenhagen could still set “ambitious” goals such as a global goal of halving emissions by 2050 and an aggregate 2020 target for developed nations’ cuts. But more months of work were likely to be needed to agree national 2020 goals.

Diplomats say there are preparations for extra U.N. climate meetings in 2010 beyond a main meeting in Mexico in December and a mid-year session in Bonn. Those meetings are likely to be needed no matter what the outcome of Copenhagen.

U.S. negotiator Jonathan Pershing said at U.N. climate talks in Bangkok last week that it would be “extraordinarily difficult” for the United States to commit to a specific number in the absence of action from Congress.

He added: “That doesn’t mean that a deal is not possible.”

Other nations say Washington has to name numbers.

“We need a number from the United States at the Copenhagen talks. I think that’s very important,” British Energy and Climate Secretary Ed Miliband said. “You can’t have success in Copenhagen without the numbers.”

“We are not even considering the possibility” that the United States will be unable to set a national target for 2020, European Commission spokeswoman Barbara Helfferich said.

“What’s important is that one way or the other the U.S. comes to Copenhagen ready to do a deal...whatever the stage or status of climate legislation in the Senate,” said James Leape, head of the WWF environmental group.

U.S. numbers could unlock cuts by other developed nations and also encourage developing nations, such as India and China, to reduce the growth of their emissions, he said.

So far, 2020 offers of greenhouse gas cuts from developed nations total between 11 and 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

A U.N. climate panel report in 2007 said that cuts would have to total 25-40 percent to avert the worst of climate change such as more wildfires, sandstorms, extinctions, rising ocean levels and more powerful cyclones.

And most offers are conditional on what others do. The European Union, for instance, has said it will cut unilaterally by 20 percent and by 30 if other nations join in. Australia’s 2020 offer ranges from 3 to 23 percent from 1990.

A big problem for President Barack Obama is that the administration of President Bill Clinton agreed in Japan in 1997 to cut U.S. greenhouse gases by seven percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12 as part of the Kyoto Protocol.

Clinton never even submitted the deal to a hostile Senate and President George W. Bush formally dropped Kyoto, saying it unfairly omitted goals for poor nations and would hit jobs.

So Obama’s administration is extremely wary of promising more than the Senate delivers.

The proposed U.S. Senate bill offers emissions cuts by 2020 of 20 percent below 2005 levels. That works out at 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 -- by coincidence the cut Clinton thought the U.S. could achieve under Kyoto.