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CLIMATE CHANGE: Biggest Emitters Seek an Early Consensus

Mirela Xanthaki

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 28 2009 (IPS) - A two-day meeting in Washington of the 17 nations that collectively emit three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gases concluded Tuesday with optimism that it helped provide a springboard toward more comprehensive talks on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol at the end of the year.

Greenpeace activists drop a banner near the State Department urging action on climate change. Credit: Tazz/Greenpeace

Greenpeace activists drop a banner near the State Department urging action on climate change. Credit: Tazz/Greenpeace

“It is important that you bring together this small group of countries that are key players sitting around the table so that we can actually move past the finger-pointing and find a solution to this difficult issue,” Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defence Council, told IPS.

“This meeting is a small step forward to help countries come a little bit closer and start to talk about the elements of an agreement built on trust, which is crucial in getting countries closer to an agreement in Copenhagen.” he continued.

Todd Stern, U.S. President Barack Obama’s special envoy for climate change, said the Apr. 27-28 session was meant to build a political consensus in a more intimate setting, and was just the start of a much longer process.

“The forum will not produce any major announcements or panacea,” Stern cautioned. “The focus on this first meeting will be on transformational technology and countries will be able to exchange ideas on what they are currently working on.”

He noted that about 80 billion dollars in the U.S. recovery package is earmarked to develop clean energy infrastructure and technology. “If you fail to do that, and instead try to stimulate your economy in ways that lock in a high carbon future, you are just going to create a longer term problem” Stern said at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate.

Canadian environmental groups complained that their own government obstructed progress at recent climate talks in Bali, Indonesia and Poznan, Poland, and noted that the Stephen Harper government has been seeking ‘protection’ for tar sands emissions in the context of a proposed North American agreement on climate and energy.

“The tar sands are the fastest growing source of global warming pollution in Canada and the reason our country has a black eye on the world stage,” said Gillian McEachern, senior energy campaigner with ForestEthics. “We are calling on world leaders to resist ploys for special treatment for the tar sands.”

Once a pariah at international meetings on climate, under the new administration, the United States has repeatedly vowed to take a leadership role in curbing carbon emissions.

In a critical reversal of previous policy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently declared that carbon dioxide and several other greenhouse gases “endanger” public health and welfare, an important tool that will be used to put pressure on Congress to enact its own legislation establishing national standards and reduction targets as early as this year.

“Where the Bush administration lagged, the Obama administration is now leading,” said David Bookbinder, the Sierra Club’s chief climate counsel. “There is no longer a question of if or even when the U.S. will act on global warming. We are doing so now.”

“This meeting is part of the president’s overall effort to build a clean energy economy, to create green jobs, and to create greater energy independence,” said Michael Froman, deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs.

Proposals currently in Congress include a bill by Rep. Henry Waxman that would cut U.S. emissions 20 percent against the 2005 baseline by 2020, 42 percent by 2030, and about 80 percent by 2050.

“Alignment between what is happening internationally and what is happening domestically is very important,” Stern said. “So it is important that what we do there is synched up with what goes on in Congress. Quite frankly, we don’t want to have a repeat of a situation where we sign some lovely agreement in some foreign capital and then have it not approved back here.”

The preparatory sessions will pave the way for a leaders’ meeting of the Major Economies Forum, which will be hosted in La Maddalena, Italy, in July 2009.

The forum in its turn is expected to generate the political leadership necessary to achieve a successful outcome at the U.N. climate change negotiations that will take place this December in Copenhagen.

“Time is running out. This meeting is an opportunity to fast-track discussions on avoiding catastrophic warming and inject some much needed urgency and cooperation into the ongoing U.N. climate talks, which are dragging on at a snail’s pace,” said Karen Sack, Greenpeace International political director.

The 17 major economies that participated are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Britain, and the United States.

Denmark, which will serve as president of the December 2009 Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, and United Nations officials were also invited to the meet.

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