May 25, 2009 / 1:21 PM / 10 years ago

France, Germany urge more flexible climate pact

PARIS (Reuters) - France and Germany suggested on Monday that rich nations should collectively guarantee deep cuts in greenhouse gases by 2020 while giving flexibility to laggards such as the United States to catch up later.

A passer-by looks over Paris through a pollution haze in Saint Cloud, Paris suburb, September 20, 2003. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

France said the idea, floated at talks among 17 top greenhouse gas emitters including China, United States, Russia and India, could help toward a new U.N. climate treaty due to be agreed at a meeting in Copenhagen in December.

“There can be more flexibility among us,” French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo told a news conference on the first day of the two-day talks among ministers, called by U.S. President Barack Obama to help work out a new climate treaty.

He said France and Germany reckoned that developed nations could collectively sign up to cut their overall emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 — the level outlined by a panel of U.N. scientists to avoid the worst of global warming.

“There may be some who act faster and others who do more later,” he said. A collective goal would undercut criticisms by developing nations, led by China and India, that the rich are not serious in fighting climate change.

Countries which have said they cannot reach such deep 2020 goals, led by the United States, could contribute to a new pact in other ways, for instance via a bigger share of financing or green technologies for developing nations, Borloo said.

“There may be constraints on such and such a developed nation — but we must reach this 2020 objective of 25 to 40 percent,” he said. Nations meeting in Paris emit 80 percent of world greenhouse gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels.

HEATWAVES

“We have to find a compromise,” he said, noting scientists’ forecasts that global warming would bring more heatwaves, rising sea levels, extinctions, floods and droughts. Rich nations might need a meeting to discuss the idea, he said.

Obama has promised to cut U.S. emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020, a cut of 14 percent from 2007 levels. A bill approved by a key congressional panel last week would cut U.S. emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

By contrast, the European Union has promised deeper cuts, of 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and by 30 percent if other rich nations follow suit

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Sunday that he wanted Washington to do more, saying it was lagging the European Union in promises to fight global warming. Obama’s plan are for far tougher curbs than by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

“I don’t think it’s correct to say that Europe is proposing a lot and the United States little,” Todd Stern, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, told Tuesday’s edition of the French daily Le Monde.

“If you look at things from the point of view of the progress that each nation will have to make to reach its objectives, the U.S. level of effort is probably equal, or superior, to that of Europe,” Stern said.

Analysts say the Major Economies Forum (MEF) talks at the French Foreign Ministry, the second of three preparatory meetings before a summit in Italy in July, are a chance to air differences away from the public gaze.

“The U.N. negotiations have somewhat fallen back to North-South finger-pointing,” said Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington. “The MEF is a crucial place where you can make progress on some of the difficult issues out of the limelight.”

Editing by Charles Dick

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