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United States on sidelines of climate talks

December 16, 2004 By Amanda Leigh Haag This article courtesy of Nature News.

Delegates haggle for admittance to Kyoto discussions.

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The United States could be left out of some sessions on global warming at a major climate conference in Buenos Aires this week.

US delegates have chosen to stay clear of some discussions, even while most countries continue to court US support in controlling emissions. And officials have said they reserve the right to close the door on the United States for some sessions on specific matters of the Kyoto Protocol.

Delegates from nearly 200 countries, as well as United Nations officials and lobbyists, are meeting in Buenos Aires over 6-17 December for the tenth session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Together they are discussing the finer details of this convention, which came into force ten years ago, and the Kyoto Protocol, which will take effect on 16 February 2005.

Those delegates who have signed the protocol are particularly keen to hash out post-Kyoto strategies, including how developing countries might become more involved in adaptation and mitigation strategies.

But the US delegation has declined to enter into discussions about events after 2012, when the terms of the Kyoto Protocol expire. "Quite frankly, we don't believe it's time to address the post-2012 time frame," says Harlan Watson, one of the heads of the US delegation. "We are very focused on implementing the President's programme domestically."

Shut out

At the same time, the board of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), an arm of the Kyoto Protocol, has said it could close its doors on countries not party to the protocol, including the United States. Officially, observer parties are allowed to attend such deliberations, except when confidential decisions are made. But there is some room for interpretation of this rule.
They don’t want any precedent that would get them locked out of these rooms.
Jeff Fiedler
Climate policy specialist, US Nature Resources Defense Council

"The executive board has chosen to define attendance as the ability to sit either in a room next to where the meeting is being held and watch it on TV or watch it somewhere in the world on streaming video," says Watson. "We believe this is ludicrous," he says. "We're obviously going to be looking to defend US interests, and we feel that as party to the convention, we have the right to attend, physically, meetings."

The CDM meetings are quite small and bureaucratic, says Jeff Fiedler, a climate policy specialist for the US Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental action organisation. But he adds the US delegates may be strategically trying to ensure that they aren’t kept out of other Kyoto negotiations. “They don’t want any precedent, anywhere, that would get them locked out of these rooms,” says Fiedler.

Experts say the United States must be kept involved in climate talks in order to make real progress on emissions reductions. But Fiedler hopes that negotiations can continue without "getting hijacked by the United States and without negotiating everything away to the United States with futile attempts to get them back in".

The home front

In the United States, moves have been made to address climate change at a national level. Former president Bill Clinton, who sent his vice-president to Kyoto meetings during his term and seemed little interested in the issue, set up a climate-change forum in New York on 6 December.

Clinton urged politicians to stop "bellyaching and whining" about the economic hardship of changes to reduce emissions, and to lobby for green policy. He particularly argued for a bill calling for mandatory carbon dioxide emission reductions, which has been in limbo for years.

"It's time to let Senator Lieberman and Senator McCain do the very best they can to pass that bill," said Clinton. "And if you have any influence with anybody in Congress, Republican or Democrat, for God's sake use it."

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