U.S. Defends Decision Not To Join Kyoto Protocol as Environmental Conference Begins
MONTREAL The United States defended its decision not to sign the Kyoto Protocol on Monday, saying during the opening of a global summit on climate change that it is doing more than most countries to protect the earth's atmosphere.
The 10-day U.N. Climate Control Conference is considered the most important gathering on global warming since Kyoto, bringing together thousands of experts from 180 nations to brainstorm on ways to slow the alarming effects of greenhouses gases.
Leading environmental groups spent the first hours of the conference blasting Washington for not signing the landmark 1997 agreement that sets targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions around the world.
Dr. Harlan L. Watson, senior climate negotiator for the State Department, said that while President Bush declined to join the treaty, he takes global warming seriously and noted that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions had actually gone down by eight-tenths of a percent under Bush.
"With regard to what the United States is doing on climate change, the actions we have taken are next to none in the world," Watson told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the conference.
Watson said the United States spends more than $5 billion a year on efforts to slow the deterioration of the earth's atmosphere by supporting climate change research and technology, and that Bush had committed to cutting greenhouses gases some 18 percent by 2012.
Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club Canada, however, accused the world's biggest polluter of trying to derail the Kyoto accord, which has been ratified by 140 nations.
"We have a lot of positive, constructive American engagement here in Montreal -- and none of it's from the Bush administration, which represents the single biggest threat to global progress," May said.
The Kyoto accord targets carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases blamed for rising global temperatures that many scientists say are disrupting weather patterns. The treaty, which went into effect in February, calls on the top 35 industrialized nations to cut emissions by 5.2 percent below their 1990 levels by 2012.
The Montreal conference will set agreements on how much more emissions should be cut after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires, though signatories are already falling short of their targets.
The European Union appears to be taking the lead, endorsing a plan in June to bring emissions of greenhouses gases down 15 percent to 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
The Kyoto accord was delayed by the requirement that countries accounting for 55 percent of the world's emissions must ratify it. That goal was finally reached -- nearly seven years after the pact was negotiated -- with Russia's approval last year.
The United States, the world's largest emitter of such gases, refused to ratify the agreement, saying it would harm the U.S. economy and is flawed by the lack of restrictions on emissions by emerging economic powers such as China and India.
The targets for cuts vary by region: The European Union initially committed to cutting emissions to 8 percent below 1990 levels by 2012; the United States had agreed to a 7 percent reduction before Bush rejected the pact in 2001.
As signatories to Kyoto's parent treaty, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, Washington is still an active participant at the conference, even if it prefers investments in climate science and technology rather than mandatory emissions caps.
Many had hoped Canada would persuade its neighbor to join the Kyoto accord, though Washington no longer has that option.
"I will certainly welcome any idea that may bring the United States closer to Canada, Europe, Japan, England and other countries as partners in this convention," Canada's Environment Minister Stephane Dion said. "We cannot do without the Americans because they represent 25 percent of emissions, and an even greater percentage of the solution."
The conference comes as Canada's House of Commons toppled Prime Minister Paul Martin's minority government with a no-confidence vote Monday, which means Dion and other Cabinet ministers could be forced to forego the conference and hit the campaign trail for national elections in January.
Source: Associated Press