Dozens of legislators from rich and developing nations will meet in Washington next month to discuss plans to lower greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.
The legislators will come from the Group of Eight most industrialised nations -- Russia, France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Japan, the United States and Canada -- and key emerging economies like China, India, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil.
The talks are being spearheaded by five U.S. senators who last week introduced a bill that would help companies control costs through emission credits trading, and calls for U.S. "leadership" in spurring other energy consumers like India and China to move towards emissions reductions and alternative energy sources like nuclear power.
Emissions trading allows countries to buy and sell emissions credits depending on whether they pollute above or below their targets, taking an international market-based approach to the carbon problem.
The talks will convene in the U.S. Congress for the Legislators Forum on Climate Change and Energy Security on Feb. 14-15.
Keynote speakers include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will attend via video link; Sir Nicholas Stern from the British Treasury, who recently issued a widely publicised report warning about the catastrophic economic impacts of unchecked global warming; and Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank.
Under the proposals by U.S. lawmakers, the federal government would play a lead role in researching and commercialising new energy technologies, and particularly nuclear plant designs.
The meeting of some 80 legislators next month will likely table these proposals and others. The U.S. lawmakers also say they want the country's major trading partners to take comparable action.
The legislation was submitted by heavyweight U.S. lawmakers Senator John McCain, a 2008 presidential campaign hopeful, and Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman. Other co-sponsors include Senators Barack Obama, Olympia Snowe, Blanche Lincoln and Susan Collins.
It has provisions that would allow U.S. companies to certify emissions reductions, which may be traded on the international market to other nations.
It would cut greenhouse gas emissions to 2004 levels by 2012, 1990 levels by 2020, and 60 percent below 1990 by 2050, which some environmentalists applauded as tougher targets than were sought in an earlier version of the legislation in 2005.
An international treaty already exists to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming. Under the Kyoto Protocol, 36 highly industrialised nations must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Parties have agreed that even tougher actions will be needed after that deadline.
The George W. Bush administration has rejected the treaty as too costly to enforce, even though it consumes nearly 37 percent more energy than other high-income countries.
The U.S. accounts for only about 4.5 percent of the world's population, but uses 25 percent of global energy resources. By contrast, India, with 17 percent of the global population, uses only 3.2 percent of the world's energy -- nearly eight times less than the U.S.
However, this situation is rapidly changing and India and China, with 40 percent of the world's people, are growing economically at breakneck pace.
In his speech introducing the Climate Stewardship Act of 2007 earlier this month, Sen. McCain, a U.S. hawk, said that "the United States has an obligation to lead," but added, "Our leadership cannot replace the need for action by countries such as India and China. We must spur and facilitate it."
He also argued that cutting greenhouse emissions will bolster U.S. national security by reducing reliance on fossil fuels that "often carry with them geopolitical costs".
"The costs of inaction are enormous, and the national security concerns related to our inaction cannot be ignored," he said in a statement.
The new proposal has triggered some concern among environmentalists who criticised the act for its provisions promoting nuclear energy.
"There are some very serious issues to work out with nuclear power, so we believe that the appropriate role of the federal government is to fund the search for solutions to these issues -- namely waste disposal and security -- not to fund construction of new plants," said Fred Krupp, president of the Washington-based advocacy group Environmental Defence.
"We also believe the challenge of global warming is so urgent we can't afford to take anything off the table," Krupp added.
Environmentalists have long called for more serious policy action across the globe and particularly in the United States, the world's leading energy consumer and emitter of greenhouse gases. They want to see, for example, long-term extension of tax credits, increased research spending, and requirements that electric utilities diversify their fuel mix with renewable energy.
The new U.S. proposals on climate change derive in part from a law recently enacted in California requiring mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
The country's northeast states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont are also seeking to limit emissions from power plants.
Over 300 U.S. mayors have signed an agreement to reduce emissions in their cities.
President Bush's State of the Union speech on Tuesday is likely to raise the issues of climate change and the country's energy security, although the White House has denied that it would seek any mandatory emissions reductions.
More U.S. companies are also parting with the notion that limiting global warming emissions would devastate the energy-dependent U.S. economy.
On Monday, several major U.S. companies joined forced with environmental groups and promised a strong effort to convince Congress to quickly pass compulsory limits on carbon emissions and with a robust trading system.
The companies included Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar, Duke Energy, DuPont, Florida Power & Light, GE, Lehman Brothers, PG&E Corporation, and PNM.
Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service