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EU urges action on climate change

2/06/2008 - 19:47

By Gerard Wynn

BONN, Germany (Reuters) - The European Union and environmentalists called for urgent action on climate change at U.N.-led talks in Germany on Monday, but the United States said it was too early for substantial steps on a global warming pact.

A further sign of U.S. unwillingness to move swiftly came in a draft climate statement by the group of eight leading rich nations -- for release at a G8 meet next month -- suggesting Washington was not ready to propose emissions targets.

Both Monday's meeting in Bonn and the upcoming G8 talks are meant to feed into U.N. discussions to get a global climate deal by the end of next year in Copenhagen, to come into force after the first round of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

The present Kyoto pact caps the planet-warming greenhouse gases of some 37 industrialized countries, but not those of the world's top two emitters -- the United States and China.

"There's a huge urgency here," Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Union's head of climate negotiation, told Reuters. "Rather little has happened in the past six months."

By contrast, U.S. climate negotiator Harlan Watson, speaking to senior officials from more than 160 countries gathered in Bonn, counseled patience.

"We do not see negotiating substantive outcomes to conclusion at this stage, as the Bali Action Plan is a two-year plan of work," said Watson, referring to the launch of climate talks last December in Bali, Indonesia.

"Activity related to climate change is increasingly global, as are the means to address it," Watson added, alluding to the growing carbon emissions of emerging economies such as China.

Greenpeace International's Bill Hare said the Bonn talks, which end on June 13, were heading into trouble unless countries offered "quite concrete ideas."

He referred to climate science suggesting global emissions must peak in the next 10 years to have the best chance to avoid dangerous warming.

The Bonn meeting, the second of eight planned, UN-run sessions to get a deal, coincide with criticism of policies to cut greenhouse gases -- especially support for biofuels, as well as carbon taxes and emissions trading -- which are adding to soaring energy and food prices.

FOOD PRICE RIOTS

Soaring food prices have sparked riots in developing nations such as Haiti and a record oil price has hurt motorists, prompting protests in Europe. These, together with an economic slowdown, threaten to distract attention from climate change.

"They're absolutely right to worry about food and energy costs but not addressing climate change would probably increase both," the U.N.'s climate chief Yvo de Boer told Reuters on Monday, referring for example to crop damage from droughts.

The head of the U.N.'s climate agency (UNFCCC) rejected the idea that carbon-cutting biofuels should be banned, after helping drive up food prices by using crops such as corn to make an ethanol alternative to gasoline.

"I think biofuels are a very important part of the solution," de Boer said.

The U.S. is blocking efforts for the G8 summit to set targets for all rich countries, according to a draft seen by Reuters, preferring to discuss these at a "major economies meeting," a U.S. initiative, on the fringe of the G8.

Drafts showed no suggested U.S. targets for either meeting.

The EU says it will cut greenhouse gases by a fifth by 2020.

A key sticking point in talks is how to split the cost of re-deploying the world's entire energy system away from fossil fuels, and how soon emerging economies adopt emissions caps. U.N. officials said that final agreement on emissions targets would come only next year.

Another U.N. agency, the Food and Agricultural Organisation, hosts a summit this week in Rome to debate high food prices.


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