WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will host a meeting of major economies on April 18-19 in Washington to advance talks on a global deal to fight climate change, the top U.S. climate negotiator said on Wednesday.
Todd Stern told Reuters he hoped U.N. climate talks in 2010 would lead to agreements on six outstanding issues, including financing for poor countries’ pollution-control efforts, but he said it was unclear whether a legally binding deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be reached this year.
“Is there going to be a legal treaty? I think we don’t know that,” Stern said.
The Major Economies Forum, which helped nudge big emitters to support a goal of limiting global warming to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels, was not intended to be a negotiating forum to replace the United Nations, Stern said, reiterating U.S. policy.
Analysts have speculated the forum or other groups would take on a greater role this year in climate negotiations after chaotic U.N. talks in Copenhagen in December ended without a legally binding pact.
“There is, in general, an increasing pace now of discussions,” Stern said, referring to different meetings worldwide on climate change.
“We will look forward to having a pretty broad discussion about what people’s expectations are this year” during the talks in Washington, he said.
The Major Economies Forum groups 17 countries that account for roughly 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The countries have not met on climate issues since the Copenhagen summit.
Stern said Germany would also host a ministerial level meeting of some 40-45 countries on May 2-4.
With only about eight months left before U.N.-sponsored global negotiations on climate change set for Cancun, Mexico, Stern said countries had not yet worked out basic procedural questions. Those issues, Stern said, will feature during a batch of U.N. talks beginning in Bonn, Germany, on April 9-11.
Stalled progress in the U.S. Senate on a bill to curb domestic emissions has hampered global talks. Stern said he hoped there would be movement in that area.
“It’s obviously highly important that progress be made on the domestic front,” he said, adding the bill was critical for U.S. leverage and credibility in U.N. negotiations.
“It’s important first and foremost for the United States, for our own national security and economic interests and environmental interests,” Stern said.
President Barack Obama and many of his fellow Democrats in the U.S. Congress want to put the United States on a path toward reducing carbon dioxide emissions 17 percent by 2020 compared to 2005 levels.
While that goal is significantly below commitments made by some other countries, notably European economies, it would be seen as major progress by the world’s second-largest carbon polluter after China.
Stern declined to predict whether a bill would pass this year. Analysts view it as an uphill fight to enact legislation before the congressional elections in November.
Stern also declined to predict the outcome of global talks but said he hoped more progress on issues such as mitigating the effects of climate change and making different countries’ goals to curb emissions transparent would be made.
“There are fundamentally six big issues at the center of negotiations: mitigation, transparency ... financing, technology, forests and adaptation,” he said.
“It would be a quite desirable outcome to essentially conclude text on all of those issues.”
China will be a key player in international talks. Stern said Beijing had done a lot domestically to fight climate change but needed to do more.
“We appreciate what’s been done and more needs to be done and we have to see how it goes this year,” he said.
He praised China for signing up to the Copenhagen Accord on global warming but said there have been questions about “the degree to which (Beijing was) prepared to internationalize their efforts in the sense of reaching international agreements as distinguished from just taking domestic action.”
More than 110 countries have signed up to the Copenhagen Accord on fighting global warming, but the United Nations says their emissions cutting pledges are insufficient.
Editing by Mohammad Zargham