- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

China and India should not have to submit to the same restrictions on carbon emissions that the United States and other developed nations must, the United Nations’ top climate negotiator said in an interview.

“I don’t think that’s realistic,” Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. climate treaty secretariat, said in an hourlong interview with The Washington Times.

Developing nations, Mr. de Boer said, are “still at the beginning of development,” while developed countries such as the United States and those in Europe have “a historical responsibility” for emitting greenhouse gases, which are thought to be a major contributor to climate change.

The next U.S. president will have to address concerns that exempting China and India from the most demanding emissions requirements might let them surpass an already hurting U.S. economy.

Mr. de Boer, a former Dutch housing minister who was in Washington this weekend to attend the meeting of the world’s finance ministers, said all three major presidential candidates “have a positive stance” on addressing climate change, but that the next president will face questions about the level of commitment demanded from China and India before the United States signs on to an international agreement at the end of next year.

The presidential campaigns of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama were reluctant to comment on the issue, which pertains to negotiations on the next president’s agenda.

A spokesman for Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee from Arizona, said his focus “as president will be bolstering the American economy while also addressing the emission of greenhouse gases.”

“To do so requires a global approach, especially bringing China and India into a meaningful negotiation on the matter, so that all economies operate on a level playing field,” said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds.

A spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, New York Democrat, declined to comment but pointed to the policy position on her campaign Web site, which talks expansively about a mandatory cap on emissions but makes scant mention of such a system’s impact on the economy or global competitiveness.

Mrs. Clinton, it says, “would re-engage in negotiations, work to bring rapidly developing nations like China and India along, and convene high-level meetings every three months with the goal of getting a new deal in place by the end of 2009.”

Mr. Obama’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment. On the Illinois Democrat’s Web site, he endorses mandatory caps and mentions China and India only as countries he would include in a “global energy forum.”

Mr. de Boer compared China and India to new tenants in an apartment building that has fallen into disrepair and are told upon renting a unit that they will have to pay for capital improvements.

“Developing countries say, rightly I believe, ‘You rich countries have been pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution,’ ” said Mr. de Boer.

“The tenants need to decide among themselves,” he said, “but meanwhile, nobody’s maintaining the building while the tenants fight.”

The Bush administration has insisted on Chinese and Indian commitment before the United States signs an internationally binding agreement on carbon emissions.

“In order for there to be effective international agreements, these agreements must include solid commitments from every major economy, and no country should get a free ride,” Mr. Bush said a month ago in a speech to an international conference on renewable energies.

In 1997, the U.S. Senate voted 95-0 vote to oppose the Kyoto Protocol because of concerns about its effect on the U.S. economy and the exemption of many populous developing countries from emissions caps. Neither the Clinton nor Bush administration has submitted the pact to Congress for ratification. Mr. Bush has opposed mandatory emissions caps during his presidency.

Mr. de Boer, however, said that top Bush administration officials committed at a December conference to agreement on internationally binding emissions caps, which his staff called a “breakthrough.”

Mr. Bush maintains, however, that the United States is already “in the lead” when it comes to dealing with climate change.

“We already have eight domestic binding programs,” said Kristen Hellmer, spokeswoman for the White House Council for Environmental Quality.

These domestic programs mandate, among other things, an increase in renewable fuels, fuel efficiency for vehicles, and lighting and appliance efficiency. Nevertheless, hard-liners insist on mandatory emissions caps.

The Bush administration has pushed for an agreement to replace Kyoto that would allow each country to define its own requirements. The United Nations and many European countries are calling for a universally recognized standard.

“We would like to see every major economy take on binding, international commitments, but we recognize that the content of those commitments will vary from country to country based on national circumstances,” Ms. Hellmer said.

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