Clinton is surprise speaker troubled climate meeting

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The Independent Online

A contentious UN climate conference entered its final day in Montreal today with the long-term future undecided in the fight against global warming, and with a surprise visitor on tap to rally the 'pro-Kyoto' forces.

Bill Clinton, who as US president championed the Kyoto Protocol clamping controls on "greenhouse gases," was scheduled to speak at the conference afternoon - in an unofficial capacity but potentially at a critical point in backroom talks involving the US delegation.

The US envoys, representing a Bush administration that renounced the Kyoto pact, were said to be displeased by the 11th-hour surprise.

"They haven't protested formally, but they're annoyed," a source in the Canadian government, conference host, said of the US delegates. "They're not infuriated, but they're not thrilled."

The US delegation was meeting late yesterday and had no immediate public comment, said spokeswoman Susan Povenmire.

Clinton, who was invited by the City of Montreal, will speak in the main conference hall between the official morning and afternoon plenary sessions, said UN conference spokesman John Hay. Despite its unofficial nature, the speech was sure to attract hundreds of delegates from the more than 180 countries represented.

A city spokesman said the ex-president will be representing the William J. Clinton Foundation, which operates the Clinton Global Initiative, a programme focusing on climate change as a business opportunity.

Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, was instrumental in final negotiations on the 1997 treaty protocol initialled in the Japanese city of Kyoto. It mandates cutbacks in 35 industrialised nations of emissions of carbon dioxide and five other gases by 2012.

A broad scientific consensus agrees that these gases accumulating in the atmosphere, by-products of automobile engines, power plants and other fossil fuel-burning industries, contributed significantly to the past century's global temperature rise of 1 degree Fahrenheit. Continued warming is expected to disrupt the global climate.

In the late 1990s the US Senate balked at ratifying Kyoto, and the incoming President Bush in 2001 formally renounced the accord, saying it would harm the US economy.

The Montreal meeting, attended by almost 10,000 delegates, environmentalists, business representatives and others, was the first annual UN climate conference since Kyoto took effect in February.

The protocol's language requires its member nations to begin talks now on emissions controls after 2012, when the Kyoto regime expires. Those governments appeared near agreement yesterday on a process for completing such talks by 2008.

But the Canadians and others also saw Montreal as an opportunity to draw the outsider United States into the emission-controls regime, through discussions under the broader 1992 UN climate treaty.

The Americans earlier this week rejected the idea of rejoining future negotiations to set post-2012 emissions controls. But the Canadians continued to press for agreement yesterday, presenting the US delegation with vague language by which Washington would join only in "exploring approaches" to co-operative action. The Canadians hoped the wording was sufficiently noncommittal to gain US approval.

The Bush administration says it prefers to deal with climate issues on a bilateral or regional basis, not through global negotiations, and favours voluntary approaches. As a demonstration of US efforts to combat climate change, it points to 3 billion dollars (£1.8 billion) a year in US government spending on research and development of energy-saving technologies.