MONTREAL — A U.N. conference on global warming ended yesterday with an agreement by more than 150 nations — an unwilling United States not among them — to open talks on mandatory post-2012 reductions in greenhouse gases.
The Bush administration, which rejects the emissions cutbacks of the current Kyoto Protocol, accepted a second conference decision, agreeing to join an exploratory global “dialogue” on future steps to combat climate change.
However, that second agreement specifically ruled out “negotiations leading to new commitments.”
The divergent tracks did little to close the gap between Washington and the Kyoto supporters, which include Europe and Japan.
Before finally gaveling the two-week conference to a close early yesterday after working overtime in snowy Montreal, conference President Stephane Dion told delegates, “What we have achieved is no less than a map for the future, the Montreal Action Plan.”
But Mr. Dion, Canada’s environment minister, later acknowledged to reporters, “I would prefer to have the United States in Kyoto.”
The Montreal meeting was the first of the annual climate conferences since the Kyoto Protocol took effect last February, mandating specific cutbacks in emissions of carbon dioxide and five other gases by 2012 in 35 industrialized countries.
The United States is the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas emitter, and the Clinton administration was instrumental in negotiating the treaty protocol initialed in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan — a pact the Senate subsequently refused to ratify.
President Bush repudiated Kyoto outright after taking office in 2001. He said its mandatory energy cuts would harm the U.S. economy and that developing countries were not covered.
The protocol’s language required its 157 member nations by 2005 to begin talks on deeper emissions cuts for the next phase, which begins when Kyoto expires in 2012.
In days of tough negotiation, the Kyoto nations settled on a plan whereby a working group would begin developing post-2012 proposals. The agreement set no deadline for completing that work, except to say it should be done early enough to ensure that no gap develops after 2012.
That would guarantee an uninterrupted future for the burgeoning international “carbon market,” in which carbon reductions achieved by one company can be sold to another to help it meet its target.
The U.S. delegation said it favors voluntary efforts and bilateral and regional arrangements to tackle climate change. It repeatedly pointed to $3 billion-a-year U.S. government spending on research and development of energy-saving technologies as a demonstration of U.S. efforts on climate.
Most of the conference was devoted to the nuts-and-bolts work of the climate pacts.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has made tackling climate change a key priority for his presidency of the G-8 group of the world’s industrialized nations this year, welcomed the agreement.
“This agreement is the result of years of hard work and is a vital next step in tackling climate change, the biggest long-term challenge facing the world,” Mr. Blair said.