US climate envoy notes 'difficult' global talks

President Barack Obama’s top climate change negotiator on Thursday said international talks to cut carbon emissions were “difficult,” adding that the US Senate must pass a Bill to fight global warming if they are to succeed.

“Let me say bluntly that the tenor of negotiations in the formal UN track has been difficult,” said Todd Stern, Obama’s special envoy for climate change.

In prepared testimony to a House energy independence and global warming panel, Stern added, “Time is short and the negotiations have still too often foundered as a result of the ... developed/developing country divide.”

The Obama administration wants Congress to pass legislation by December that would put American utilities, oil refineries and factories on a path to significantly cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases associated with global warming.

That deadline is tailored for December’s UN meeting in Copenhagen that aims to set a new global regime for reducing carbon pollution after the 2012 expiration of the Kyoto Protocol.

While the US House of Representatives passed a Bill in June to reduce US emissions by 17% by 2020 and 83% by 2050—from 2005 levels—the legislation faces an uncertain fate in the Senate.

On Wednesday, several Senate Democrats, who hold a solid majority, expressed uncertainty a Bill could be passed this year, especially with the ongoing fight over separate healthcare reform legislation that is the centre of attention.

“It is critical that the Senate now do its part to move this process forward in a timely manner,” Stern told the House panel. He added, “Nothing the United States can do is more important for the international negotiation process than passing robust, comprehensive clean energy legislation as soon as possible.”

Despite the tough negotiations, Stern devoted a significant portion of his testimony detailing progress by China, India, South Africa and other developing countries toward controlling carbon emissions.

“The good news—and it is good—is that the major developing countries have started recognising the seriousness of the problem, their own vulnerability to it, and the need for global action,” Stern said.
“In some cases, they are taking action at the federal level that outstrips our own.”

Later this month, finance ministers from 20 major economies will meet in Pittsburgh to discuss global economic concerns. But they also are expected to talk about helping fund steps by developing countries to reduce carbon emissions.

“The adoption of appropriate financing provisions is pivotal to getting a deal” in Copenhagen, Stern said. - Reuters

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