Tuesday, September 15, 2009

GENEVA | Western nations that spent the past several years slamming the Bush administration for not doing enough to deal with climate change were conspicuously absent from a recent global climate conference.

The Obama administration sent a large entourage to the third World Climate Conference in Geneva earlier this month, trumpeting the return of the United States to the climate change debate.

But representatives from Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Australia were nowhere to be found. The European Commission, the executive arm of the 27-member European Union, also failed to send a commissioner.

In contrast, the United States sent a 41-member delegation, led by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco, with representatives from eight agencies, the White House and Capitol Hill. They succeeded in fending off last-minute demands for Western concessions to developing nations, and their diplomatic footwork helped secure the establishment of a global framework for climate services that all nations will need if a carbon-reduction agreement is reached later this year.

But with three months to go before delegates convene in Copenhagen for a U.N.-sponsored conference to establish a path toward the global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, diplomats say it is not clear whether the United States will be able to rally the support of its allies in the impending showdown with emerging nations such as China and India.

The absence of so many key European nations was disturbing to European diplomats who did show up. “EU member states are divided and unsure,” said one ambassador, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Another top European envoy suggested that several countries are unwilling to make any commitments until they see what happens at the December conference.

The negotiations on how to cut greenhouse gas emissions have been threatened from the start by complex disputes between industrialized and developing nations over how to cut emissions without derailing economic growth.

The European Union proposed last week to offer up to $21.8 billion a year in aid to encourage developing countries to participate in a climate change agreement. But environmentalists blasted the offer as woefully inadequate, noting that the burden on the poorest countries will almost certainly be far higher than that.

A U.N. study has found that developing nations would need to invest $500 billion to $600 billion annually if they are to continue rapid economic development while reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that may contribute to climate change.

Fearing that a global deal is in danger, five European foreign ministers announced Thursday that they were taking a whirlwind tour of foreign capitals to raise awareness of the dangers of climate change.

“Time is now short and the need is urgent,” British Foreign Minister David Miliband said at Copenhagen University.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said time is running out to reach an agreement.

“We need cooperation, not competition,” he told reporters at the Geneva climate conference. “It is important to act on what science tells us.”

He said serious issues need to be settled in Copenhagen. Chief among them is finding a way to provide financial and technological support to help developing countries slow the growth of their emissions, he said.

“I urge developed countries to act on more ambitious targets,” Mr. Ban said.

The U.N. chief acknowledged that political will for an agreement was still lacking, but urged world leaders to overcome their differences.

Ms. Lubchenco told delegates in Geneva that President Obama “is unwavering in his commitment” to get a deal at Copenhagen. But some Europeans at the conference expressed doubt that the United States would offer anything substantial to developing nations.

About 2,000 scientists, specialists and high-level policymakers from more than 150 countries took part in the five-day Geneva conference, which ended Sept. 4.

A task force was given 12 months to set up a framework that aims “to strengthen production, availability, delivery and application of science-based climate prediction and services.” Organizers said they hope to have a climate services plan fully implemented by mid-2011.

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