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U.S. vote was "setback" for climate action: Norway

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.S. midterm vote was a setback for nations pushing for global action to combat climate change, but future elections will hopefully bring the United States around, Norway’s prime minister said on Friday.

U.S. President Barack Obama has conceded that big Republican gains in Tuesday’s congressional vote hurt prospects for legislation to tackle climate change with mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

“The election in the U.S. was a setback for everyone who would like to see an ambitious climate-change agreement and a nationwide cap-and-trade system in the United States,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told Reuters in an interview.

“On the other hand we cannot give up our efforts to try to reach an agreement on how to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases,” he said.

U.S. Republicans, who are loathe to add more business regulations, have slammed any attempt to put a price on carbon emissions as an “energy tax” on corporations.

The European Union, on the other hand, imposes emissions limits on businesses and has the world’s largest carbon market with its cap-and-trade program for selling carbon credits.

Earlier on Friday, Stoltenberg handed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a report on financing action against climate change prepared by a high-level advisory panel chaired by the Norwegian and Ethiopian prime ministers.

The report, a draft of which was obtained by Reuters last week, said that carbon markets and taxes on foreign exchange deals or plane tickets could be sources for a promised $100 billion a year from 2020 to help poor nations fight climate change.

The report concluded that creating public and private mechanisms for that financing was “challenging but feasible.”

“DISCOURAGING”

Stoltenberg made clear that he was looking ahead to future U.S. elections in 2012 and beyond to bring the United States around to views on climate change similar to Europe’s.

“We have to work with the United States to be able to mobilize the $100 billion. But we have some time,” he said. “We are going to have these ... mechanisms in place by 2020. There are going to be many more elections before that.”

Nicholas Stern, a member of the advisory group chaired by Stoltenberg, reacted similarly to the U.S. election.

“It’s discouraging, but at the same time we’re taking a five or 10 year view,” he told Reuters in London.

“The U.S. has indicated its position in the Copenhagen Accord (on combating climate change), and I see no reason why it will backtrack from the accord,” he said.

Stoltenberg, however, said that he hoped the advisory panel’s climate financing report to the United Nations would provide “valuable input” for the next climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, from November 29-December 10.

While there will almost certainly be no binding agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, Stoltenberg said he hoped the process would move forward in Cancun. His biggest fear was that Cancun would yield “no agreement at all.”

“That would be a very serious setback,” he said. “Everyone has to do what we can to at least make Cancun a place where we make some progress and create the basis for a comprehensive climate change agreement later.”

Financing for developing countries is a key issue for the success of global climate negotiations, analysts say.

David Waskow, climate change adviser for Oxfam, said Friday’s report “should be a clarion call to negotiators that we can crack the climate finance nut with innovative sources of public finance that don’t shift the responsibility onto taxpayers.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, speaking by video-link from Addis Ababa, said that whether the advisory panel’s report was translated into action would “depend on the political will of political leaders everywhere.”

“Our report can be used for an ambitious and forward-looking deal,” he said. “It can also be used for a weak and miserly deal. It can even be left to languish in the desks of government bureaucrats.”

Additional reporting by Gerard Wynn in London; editing by Philip Barbara

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