United States Defends Global Warming Strategy at International Climate Summit
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina The United States stood by its refusal to sign a landmark global warming agreement, insisting at an environmental conference here that it is doing more to battle climate change than many nations.
A U.S. climate negotiator, Harlan L. Watson, told reporters at a two-week conference of nearly 200 countries that the United States should not be considered an environmental villain by supporters of the Kyoto Protocol.
"I'm not sure why we're considered the 'bad boys' " said Watson, a U.S. State Department official, when asked about persistent international criticism of the Bush administration's rejection of the treaty.
Speaking at the last major conference on climate change before the Kyoto accord takes effect in February, Watson said the U.S. government had its own comprehensive strategy on global warming.
U.S. President George W. Bush in 2001 rejected the treaty, which requires initial cuts in "greenhouse" gases among rich nations by 2012.
"The United States has chosen a different path," he said, calling Kyoto "a political agreement" and adding the U.S. government spends US$5 billion annually on research and technological development to dampen the impact of global warming.
The United States, along with Australia, is the biggest industrialized country to reject the accord, a landmark agreement obligating 30 of the world's developed nations to reduce their output of heat-trapping gases produced by industry, automobiles and power plants.
Many scientists believe the gases seriously threaten life on Earth by causing a gradual rise in the planet's temperature. Global warming has been blamed for more violent storms, rising sea levels and shrinking animal habitats.
Other experts disagree, countering that Earth's temperature has fluctuated for centuries and that the long-term impact of climate change has yet to be understood.
The U.S. stance, which has rankled European allies, hung over the annual United Nations gathering. Government policy-makers and environmental groups are looking at ways to address global warming even beyond 2012.
Developing countries, facing possible emissions controls for the first time after 2012, also have resisted opening talks about the "post-Kyoto" future.
Under Kyoto, governments pledged new limits on emissions by industrial nations. By 2012, the European Union, for example, would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 8 percent below 1990 levels, and Japan by 6 percent.
Although Washington rejects Kyoto, northeastern U.S. states are moving toward capping carbon dioxide on their own and allowing emissions trading. California also has acted to sharply reduce auto emissions.
But environmentalists warned of continuing massive releases of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, pointing to the deterioration of wetlands and peatlands worldwide.
"Peatlands are the most important wetland ecosystem in the world," said Faizal Parish, director of the Malaysia-headquartered Global Environment Centre.
He noted that so-called peatland forests cover 3 percent of Earth's surface but contain huge stores of carbon such as fossil fuels.
Canadian officials reported on a US$87 million ($100 million Canadian) fund aimed at helping developing nations cope with climate change.
The fund has brought solar energy projects to Mongolia, measured harmful emissions in five major Latin American cities, and assisted East Timor residents to protect crops from environmental change.
"We've seen from the project that people care very much about climate change. They just need a little support," said Tina Guthrie, a project manager with the Canadian International Development Agency.
Source: Associated Press