Former President Clinton told those gathered on Friday for a world climate meeting that his successor, George W. Bush, was "flat wrong" in arguing Kyoto would harm the economy.
MONTREAL The United States stood alone in resisting new international talks on ways to combat climate change Friday as most countries moved closer to extending the Kyoto Protocol to curb global warming beyond 2012.
The United States, the largest producer of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, was blocking an accord on the launch of a new dialogue among all 190 states at a meeting in Montreal -- not just Kyoto members -- on ways to rein in greenhouse gases.
"The current text is unacceptable," chief U.S. negotiator Harlan Watson told Reuters of a Canadian proposal at the U.N.'s climate conference, which was likely to last into Saturday. "We are talking to see what might be acceptable."
Calling climate change the biggest environmental threat to the planet, host Canada wants to launch a nonbinding world "dialogue" about climate change, blamed on a build-up of gases from fossil fuels burnt in power plants, factories and cars.
The United States pulled out in 2001 of the U.N.'s 157-nation Kyoto Protocol, under which about 40 industrialized nations agreed to curb emissions until 2012. Washington said Kyoto would be an economic straitjacket.
Even without a deal on the Canadian proposal, Kyoto countries are hoping to announce an agreement in Montreal to launch negotiations from May 2006 about a second phase of the protocol. Russian objections were holding up a deal.
Former President Clinton told the meeting on Friday that his successor, George W. Bush, was "flat wrong" in arguing Kyoto would harm the economy.
Bush prefers his own approach to stem global warming, mostly by investing heavily in technology.
European Union officials urged the United States to rejoin global dialogue.
"Sixty years ago Winston Churchill told the U.S. Congress the United States always does the right thing, after having exhausted all other options," EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told a news conference.
"I think it will be very difficult for the United States not to join the dialogue that has almost unanimous support," he added.
The United States struck back at some of the criticism. Canadian media reported the White House was angry with the host nation after Prime Minister Paul Martin directly accused it of not doing its part against global warming.
Martin struck a more conciliatory tone Friday, admitting Canada was lagging behind on its Kyoto goals. Canada's greenhouse gas emissions were 24.4 percent above 1990 levels in 2003, far exceeding the average Kyoto goal of a 5.2 percent cut from 1990 by 2008-12.
"We've got to pull up our socks. We've got a lot to do ... It's not a case of saying, 'We're better than you'," he told a news conference with Clinton.
Many delegates had hoped U.S. resistance would be broken by this year's extreme weather, particularly Hurricane Katrina's destruction of New Orleans. Scientific evidence suggests global warming might be behind recent devastating weather patterns.
Environmentalists have urged the EU -- the leader in the process -- to move ahead without Washington.
"The brakes are being released, the process is moving forward," said Bill Hare, climate policy director at Greenpeace, of advances under Kyoto. "This week we've seen some historic progress in the global response to climate change."
The agreement on a Kyoto renewal road map would give members seven years to negotiate and ratify accords by the time the first phase ends in 2012. Most countries agree that deeper cuts will be needed to avoid climate chaos in coming decades.
There is also pressure to draw in developing giants like China and India, which were not included in the first phase of commitments and whose fast-growing economies rely heavily on dirty energy.
"Some rich countries have to do more," said Nado Rinchhen, delegate for the Himalayan nation of Bhutan. "The lesson now is that it's a global issue."
(Additional reporting by David Fogarty and Alister Doyle)