Washington cannot rule out joining any successor to the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol for curbing global warming beyond 2012 but such a move would face big legal hurdles, the U.S. chief climate negotiator said on Monday.
LONDON Washington cannot rule out joining any successor to the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol for curbing global warming beyond 2012 but such a move would face big legal hurdles, the U.S. chief climate negotiator said on Monday.
President George W. Bush withdrew the United States from Kyoto in 2001, saying its caps on greenhouse gases would cost jobs and that poor nations were wrongly excluded until 2012.
"I never rule anything out," Harlan Watson told Reuters during a climate conference at Chatham House, London, when asked if Washington might re-join the 163-nation pact beyond 2012.
He noted that many U.S. Democrats and some Republicans favour a Kyoto-style system to cap emissions.
Republican "Senator (John) McCain and other potential (presidential) candidates have spoken very favourably for a cap and trade system," he said. Bush will step down in January 2009.
"If you're looking beyond 2012 it's all speculation," Watson added. "I can't speak for what the next administration might do."
Kyoto obliges 35 industrial nations to cut emissions of carbon dioxide by an overall 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. Negotiators from Kyoto nations are discussing new, tougher targets beyond 2012.
Watson said there was a "mechanical problem" for joining a second phase after dropping out of the first. "It would require substantial changes in the current rules of the game."
Many countries, including developing nations such as China and Brazil, would be reluctant to let an industrial nation join without first meeting its original, albeit dropped, targets.
"It doesn't mean something might not work out," Watson said.
Committing to legally binding emissions targets, as likely under Kyoto, would require changes to laws in the United States.
"A quantified (emissions) cap would mean changing (U.S.) environmental law, addressing our Clean Air Act. It took nearly 14 years to update our energy legislation. There needs to be a majority in the U.S. Senate and you need a majority in both sides of the Congress."
Watson said he saw no chance that even a pro-Kyoto U.S. president would seek to join the treaty before 2012. Former President Bill Clinton never submitted Kyoto for ratification in the Senate, knowing it would be defeated.
After abandoning Kyoto, Bush has set a goal of cutting the amount of carbon produced per dollar of U.S. gross domestic product by 18 percent in the decade to 2012. That goal will still allow carbon emissions to rise overall.
U.S. emissions grew by 1.7 percent in 2004 because of economic growth and a rising population.
"I wouldn't expect such a dramatic increase in 2005, although I'm not sure if it will actually drop," Watson said. High fuel prices may have discouraged emissions growth in 2005.