US facing pressure to sign up to future climate protocols

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The Independent Online

The United States will this week face intense lobbying in an effort to force concrete action from the Bush administration over climate change when ministers from around the world meet at a United Nations summit in Canada. A failure to obtain some concession from the US would lead to further condemnation of both President George Bush and Tony Blair, who has said he believes a legally-binding commitment is achievable.

When the talks on climate change opened last week, the US chief negotiator made clear the US would not be part of a binding agreement to cut emissions of greenhouse gases once the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012. "We would certainly not agree to the United States being part of legally binding targets and timetable agreement post-2012," said Harlan Watson.

But in this second week of talks, conducted by high-level ministers, the US will be strongly lobbied by conference hosts Canada and the EU, of which Britain currently holds the presidency. They believe that Mr Watson's initial flat-out refusal may have been a negotiating tactic and that the US could be persuaded to move from that position.

The talks are to discuss the second phase of the Kyoto protocol, established in 1997, which came into effect in February this year. Currently, 36 countries are bound to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by around 5.2 per cent below their 1990 levels by 2012.

Britain is on track to meet this target though not all of the 36 so-called "annex B" countries are.

The US - which contributes 25 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions - is not part of the protocol but is at the conference as an observer, and a signatory to a UN climate change convention dating from 1992.

This week's talks in Montreal will focus on what happens after 2012.

Campaigners want to see agreement to a new round of negotiations on fresh emission reduction targets and a timetable to reach that commitment.

In advance of the conference, Mr Blair sounded optimistic. Speaking to the Confederation of British Industry last month, he said: "I believe there will be a binding international agreement to succeed Kyoto when it expires in 2012 that will include all major economies." But some campaigners believe that efforts to persuade the US to act are a waste of time while the current administration holds the White House. They also believe that both the US and Britain could seek to take credit for even the slightest - and essentially meaningless - undertaking from Washington.

They believe energy is better invested persuading countries such as South Africa to sign up to legally binding agreements.

Catherine Pearce, climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth International (FOEI), said: "The US is not going to move. If they are not going to sign up to Kyoto they are not going to sign up to legally binding targets...The worry is that if the US moves an inch then Canada and the EU will say we have done really well."

The Bush administration - which has repeatedly questioned the established science on climate change - rejected Kyoto on the grounds that it would be too damaging to the US economy. It is involved in other international negotiations on global warming, including one that looks at developing new technology to reduce greenhouse gases but does not set any targets.

Campaigners believe the attitude elsewhere in the US is different. They point out that a majority of Senators have called for mandatory limits on emissions and that more than 150 US mayors have pledged to reduce their cities' pollutants to match Kyoto's aims.

Critics of Mr Blair say he has retreated from previous commitments to be a global leader on climate change and that he changes his pitch depending on his audience. The WWF said he was "indistinguishable" from Mr Bush, after he last month insisted that "the blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge".

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