- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 29, 2009

BONN, GERMANY (AP) - President Barack Obama’s climate change team made their international debut Sunday at a major U.N. conference _ and delegates were eager to find out whether Obama could translate his aggressive domestic agenda into a worldwide deal to fight global warming.

The two-week meeting by 175 countries is the latest attempt to craft a global agreement to govern the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that scientists say are dangerously warming the planet.

With time running out before the pact is due to be completed in December, delegates are trying to narrow vast differences over how best to fight climate change.

Issues include how much countries need to reduce emissions, how to raise the tens of billions of dollars needed annually to fight global warming and how to transfer money and technology to poor countries who are most vulnerable to increasingly fierce storms, droughts and failing crops.

In a symbolic move embraced around the world, lights dimmed Saturday night for one hour in nearly 4,000 cities and famous sites _ from the Sydney opera house to the Egyptian pyramids, from the Eiffel Tower in Paris to Times Square in New York _ to highlight concern over global warming.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature, which organized the event, said hundreds of millions of people took part.

“Last night’s message from the masses was loud and clear: Delay no more, real action now!” said Kim Carstensen, head of WWF’s Global Climate Initiative.

The climate change agreement to be concluded in December in Copenhagen, Denmark, is meant to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which requires 37 industrial nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent from 1990 levels by 2012 when it expires.

The United States was instrumental in negotiating Kyoto, but could not win enough support in Congress. Global talks stalled as the U.S. Bush administration refused to reduce carbon emissions.

In an upbeat signal to the 2,000 delegates in Bonn, Obama dispatched his top negotiator, Todd Stern, to deliver the message: “We’re back.”

But the talks have barely picked up momentum since Obama’s election. Everyone is waiting for the new team to clarify its stand on a host of issues, from emission targets to finances.

“There is a clear reluctance to go too fast and too quickly into numbers until we know what the U.S. will say,” said Harald Dovland, chairman of a key forum at the conference.

Obama announced Saturday he would revive a parallel negotiating forum of the 17 nations that emit more than 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, including India, China, Brazil, Russia, Japan and the European Union.

When it was first launched by former President George W. Bush, many of the U.N. delegates viewed it as an attempt to undermine the U.N. process. That view seems to have softened.

“It’s quite a useful group of countries,” said Michael Zammit Cutajar, chairman of the second negotiating forum at the U.N. talks.

Diplomats wonder how flexible the new U.S. negotiating team can be, and whether the U.S. has fallen so far behind that it can’t catch up.

While the European Union is on target to reduce its carbon emissions by 8 percent from 1990 levels, U.S. emissions have grown at least 16 percent from that baseline.

Obama has pledged to return to 1990 levels by 2020. But other countries insist that by that time the industrial world should be 25-40 percent below 1990 to avoid a potentially catastrophic warming of the Earth’s average temperature.

“The big question for me is to what extent it is prepared to negotiate,” Zammit Cutajar told The Associated Press.

U.S. negotiator Stern says the administration wants to avoid a repeat of the Kyoto debacle, and its policy will be driven by the political realities of dealing with Congress.

“This will be a big, big fight to get the domestic piece done,” he told reporters in Berlin on Friday.

Alden Meyer, of the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists, says Obama cannot ignore the international scene.

What the world needs to hear from Obama “is the kind of rhetoric for a global deal on climate that he’s made very powerfully in the domestic context,” Meyer said.

Three more meetings _ six weeks of actual negotiations _ are scheduled this year.

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