EU accuses U.S. of blocking climate talks

NUSA DUA, Indonesia (Reuters) - The European Union accused the United States on Thursday of blocking goals for fighting climate change at U.N. talks in Bali and threatened to boycott U.S. talks among top greenhouse gas emitting nations.

The December 3-14 Bali talks are split over the guidelines for starting two years of formal negotiations on a deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, a U.N. pact capping greenhouse gas emissions of all industrial nations except the United States until 2012.

“If we would have a failure in Bali it would be meaningless to have a major economies’ meeting” in the United States, Humberto Rosa, Portugal’s Secretary of State for Environment, said on the penultimate day of the talks.

“We’re not blackmailing,” he said, escalating ratcheting up a war of words with Washington at the 190-nation meeting. “If no Bali, no MEM (major economies’ meeting).”

Portugal holds the rotating EU presidency and Rosa is the EU’s top negotiator in Bali, where delegates are seeking to agree to launch talks on a broad new climate treaty to combat floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising seas from 2012.

“We don’t feel that comments like that are very constructive when we are working so hard to find common ground,” said Kristin Hellmer, a White House spokeswoman in Bali.

Washington, long at odds with many of its Western allies on climate policies, has called a meeting of 17 of the world’s top emitters, including China, Russia and India, in Hawaii late next month to discuss long-term curbs on greenhouse gases.

President George W. Bush intends the Honolulu meeting as part of a series to come up with plans for curbs to feed into the U.N. process, to be completed after he steps down in January 2009. Washington hosted a similar meeting in September.

The EU wants Bali’s final text to agree a non-binding goal of cuts in emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 for industrial economies. The United States, Japan and Canada are opposed, saying any figures would prejudge the outcome.

Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg gives a speech during the UN Climate Change Conference in Nusa Dua, Bali island December 13, 2007. Delegates at climate talks in Bali tried to break a deadlock on Thursday over U.S.-led opposition to tough guidelines for rich nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. REUTERS/Supri


“Those who are suggesting that you can magically find agreement on a metric when you are just starting negotiations, that in itself is a blocking element,” said James Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Despite opposition to Kyoto, the United States plans to join a new treaty, meant to be agreed in Copenhagen in late 2009 with participation of developing nations led by China and India.

Washington submitted a new text to the talks around midnight on Thursday that stressed voluntary goals for greenhouse gases rather than binding Kyoto-style caps for developed countries.

“This is almost a caricature of the U.S. position,” James Leape, director general of the WWF conservation group, told Reuters. “There needs to be a cry of outrage from the other countries here.”

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, fresh from collecting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, won rapturous applause on the sidelines by adding his voice to criticisms of Washington.

“My own country the United States is principally responsible for obstructing progress in Bali,” he said. Defeated by Bush in the 2000 election, he called warming “a planetary emergency”.

On other issues, the Bali talks made progress.

Negotiators agreed a deal in principle to share technology -- such as wind turbines or solar panels -- to help poor nations. This week, the talks have also agreed the workings of a fund to help poor nations adapt to climate change and are hoping to take steps to slow deforestation.

Kyoto binds 37 industrialized nations to cut emissions by an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. Poorer nations, led by China and India, are exempt from curbs. Washington pulled out in 2001, saying Kyoto would harm the U.S. economy and wrongly excluded goals for developing countries.

The United Nations says a Kyoto successor has to be in place by 2009 to give governments time to ratify the new deal by the end of 2012 and to give markets clear guidelines on how to make investments in clean energy technology.

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Additional reporting Adhityani Arga and Emma Graham-Harrison in Bali; Writing by Alister Doyle; Editing by David Fogarty and Alex Richardson