August 25, 2008 / 4:07 PM / in 12 years

New U.S. president seen struggling on climate

ACCRA (Reuters) - The next U.S. president will find it hard to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 enough to satisfy many of America’s allies, the chief U.S. climate negotiator said on Monday.

File photo of chief U.S. Climate Negotiator Harlan Watson. The next U.S. president will find it hard to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 enough to satisfy many of America's allies, Watson said on Monday. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/Files

“It’s going to be a heavy lift ... It takes time in our system” to change course, Harlan Watson told Reuters on the sidelines of 160-nation talks in Ghana working on a new United Nations climate treaty by the end of 2009.

And an economic slowdown, rising U.S. population and time needed, for instance, to shift away from high-polluting coal-fired power plants would made it tough to act more swiftly, whoever succeeds President George W. Bush in January 2009.

“Anything that raises the price of electricity is going to be a political problem,” Watson said.

Both Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican John McCain support tougher carbon-capping legislation than to cut emissions of greenhouse gases as part of a global effort to avert feared heatwaves, droughts, floods and rising seas.

The United States is alone among 37 industrialised nations in opposing the current U.N. Kyoto Protocol for curbing emissions and many U.S. allies accused Bush of dragging his feet on climate action.

And Watson said that any new U.S. curbs were likely to fall short of those urged be less than hoped by many U.S. allies. China and the United States are the top emitters of greenhoues gases.

An agreement at U.N. talks in Bali last year to work out a new climate treaty by the end of 2009, including the United States and developing nations, specifies that rich nations’ efforts in curbing emissions must be ‘comparable’.

“The difficulty is going to be this ‘comparability’ issue,” Watson said.

U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels, were 14.4 percent above 1990 levels in 2006 and are projected by the Bush administration to peak only in 2025. By then, they may be 30 percent above 1990 levels.

By contrast, the European Union is promising an overall cut by its member states of 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and of 30 percent if other countries join in.

Most proposals for tougher climate legislation in the United States were likely to fall short.

“As far as I am aware all the bills, at least the analysis I have seen, would not get the United States back to 1990” levels by 2020, Watson said.

Watson also said the U.S. administration did not plan any major initiatives on global warming before Bush steps down in January. “I don’t anticipate that,” he said.

At a summit of leaders of the main industrial nations last month in Japan, Bush endorsed a “vision” of a global cut of 50 percent by 2050 that would, Watson said, require a vast overhaul of everything from power generation to transport.

Bush has been betting that big investments in emerging technologies — including clean coal and hydrogen — will help solve the problem in future. He stayed out of Kyoto, saying it was too costly and wrongly excluded targets for poor nations.

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