Climate talks to fail without tough CO2 goals: U.N.

POZNAN, Poland (Reuters) - The United States and other rich nations must pledge by the end of next year specific targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to win agreement on a U.N. climate pact, the U.N.’s top climate official said on Tuesday.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer gives a speech during the opening session of the UN climate change conference in Poznan December 1, 2008. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Some analysts say that President-elect Barack Obama may not be ready to set formal emissions targets for 2020 within a year, and that economic recession could delay an end-2009 deadline by 190 nations for agreement on a new U.N. global warming pact.

“We have to have numbers on the table from industrialized countries (by the end of 2009) otherwise the other dominoes won’t fall,” Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat said during December 1-12 talks on global warming.

Poor nations such as China and India would not sign up for more action to slow their rising emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, without leadership from the rich, he told a news conference during U.N. talks of 11,000 delegates in Poznan.

And he gave a one-word answer -- “Yes” -- when asked if he would rate the negotiations a failure if they set no 2020 greenhouse cuts for rich nations to succeed 2012 goals set by the existing Kyoto Protocol.

A U.N. official said de Boer’s remarks covered the United States, even though President George W. Bush kept the country out of Kyoto. Bush said Kyoto was too costly and wrongly excluded 2012 targets for developing nations.

But de Boer also cautioned against too much ambition for a new global deal due to be agreed in Copenhagen next year, saying that many details of a new pact could be worked out later.

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“We should be careful not to reach too far and achieve nothing,” he said. Targets for rich nations, clarity on aid for the poor and institutions were essential in Copenhagen.

The talks in Poznan, Poland, are reviewing progress toward the new pact meant to be agreed in Copenhagen in 2009, half-way through a two-year push launched in Bali, Indonesia, a year ago.

Obama said last month that he aims to cut U.S. emissions, running almost 17 percent above 1990 levels in 2007, back to 1990 levels by 2020 as part of a fight to avert more heatwaves, disease, water shortages and rising seas.

But it is unclear if Obama would have to get the Senate’s blessing before making a commitment as part of an international treaty. With the economic crisis, U.S. domestic climate laws are unlikely to be in place by late 2009, analysts say.

Environmentalists in Poznan accused some rich nations -- including Japan and Canada -- of slamming on the brakes in their ambitions for emissions cuts by 2020.

Backers of the Kyoto Protocol, which demands average cuts of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12, agreed in 2007 at least to consider cuts of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to avert the worst of climate change.

In latest texts, a reference to “minus 25 to 40 percent” was in contention and might be dropped. “It’s frankly outrageous,” said Steven Guilbeault of Canadian environmental group Equiterre, accusing Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Australia of trying to cut out the reference.

British charity Oxfam set up 10 life-sized human ice sculptures outside the conference center on Tuesday. “Rich countries need to take the lead before hope in saving the planet and its people melts away,” said Aboubacar Traore, Oxfam’s climate change campaigner in Mali.

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Editing by Myra MacDonald