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Environment

U.S. climate envoy says China tepid on climate deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior U.S. official on Tuesday criticized China and other leading developing countries for trying to weaken the Copenhagen Accord to fight global warming and raised the prospect that a fuller international pact may be not be struck by year’s end.

A United Nations-sponsored climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December fell short of its intended goal of producing a binding treaty, but did take some nonbinding steps toward further controlling greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.

“The statements that we have seen from China and the other BASIC countries do evince a desire to limit the impact of the accord,” said Todd Stern, President Barack Obama’s senior climate negotiator. BASIC countries are Brazil, South Africa, India and China.

Stern complained that BASIC countries were vague in how they would carry out pollution-reduction under the Copenhagen deal and warned that countries should not “cherry-pick” parts of the Copenhagen Accord that they like, while ignoring other provisions.

“This is not after all a casual agreement,” he said.

The next annual global meeting, starting in late November, is scheduled to be hosted by Mexico with the goal of reaching a binding treaty for 190 countries to deal with climate change after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

Stern described the Copenhagen meeting as a “snarling, aggravated, chaotic event” that at one point “really did appear to be doomed.”

Anticipating more tough negotiations this year leading up to Mexico, Stern said in a speech at the Center for American Progress that he hoped a full binding treaty can be reached.

But he added that falling short of that goal would not mean a failure and that countries needed to focus on taking “significant, pragmatic steps.”

TWO-WEEK MARATHON

The Copenhagen Accord was hammered out in the final hours of a two-week marathon that saw world leaders in nitty-gritty negotiations. The deal was largely brokered by Obama and BASIC leaders in last-minute talks. Together, the five countries contribute about one-half of global carbon dioxide pollution.

But since leaders and diplomats left Copenhagen, some of the major developing countries have been criticized as being less than enthusiastic about the deal.

“BASIC submissions have been a bit ambiguous,” Stern said, referring to those countries’ promises for cutting their carbon emissions by 2020.

The failure of the United Nations to wrap up a binding climate deal has prompted some to question whether smaller forums might be more effective in finding ways to force countries to reduce their fossil fuel use in favor of alternative energy such as solar and wind power.

Stern said there were “quite intense discussions” underway about the process for going forward this year and, “I think we’re going to see probably a number of different places where discussion occurs.”

Stern mentioned the Major Economies Forum of major developed and developing countries and the likelihood of a U.N.-sponsored meeting sometime this spring.

“The short answer is there is not absolute clarity on this,” Stern added.

Despite disappointments in Copenhagen, Stern praised the accord for calling on countries to set carbon emission reduction targets aimed at keeping Earth temperatures from rising not more than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels and for breaking new ground on aid for poor nations.

Stern said the Copenhagen Accord should influence further global negotiations. But overall it’s “more a sketch than a painting.”

Supporters of a strong international climate change pact are hoping the U.S. Congress passes domestic legislation this year. A bill to reduce U.S. carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020, from 2005 levels, has passed the House of Representatives but is stalled in the Senate.

On Tuesday, after congressional leaders met with Obama, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he would work with the Democratic president on ways to increase nuclear energy, expand offshore oil and gas drilling and develop clean coal technology. But he made no mention of imposing economy-wide controls on carbon emissions.

Editing by Vicki Allen

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