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US Refusal to Negotiate Carbon Emissions Cuts Risks Derailing Summit

US refusal to negotiate legally-binding carbon emissions cuts risks derailing a UN summit convened to tackle climate change, environmental groups have warned in a letter to Hillary Clinton.

by Aislinn Laing, Durban and Louise Gray

The letter, signed by 16 different organisations and sent to the US Secretary of State, said that while President Barack Obama pledged in November 2008 to "engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global co-operation on climate change," he had failed to deliver on that pledge.

An environmental activist paints a banner during a demonstration outside the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties meeting (COP17) in Durban, November 30, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Hutchings) Instead, the letter claimed, America is fast becoming seen as a "major obstacle" to progress.

Signatories included Greenpeace USA, the Natural Resources Defence Council, Oxfam America, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the World Wildlife Fund.

Shortly after it was made public, the European Union delegation at the summit criticised the US for "overlooking the facts" on the risk of climate change and suggested it was not doing enough at home to live up to its promises to cut carbon emissions. The EU bloc wants the current talks to agree on a timetable for all major polluters to a legally binding agreement to cut their emissions by 2015.

At the opening of the UN climate change summit in Durban on Monday, the US said it would not consider committing to the EU's proposals until major developing countries such as China and India do. China, the world's biggest emitter, is also against the 2015 deadline.

Jonathan Pershing, the US Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, added that he believed voluntary cuts agreed by countries at the previous summit in Cancun were sufficient until 2020.

Scientists have said these are not enough to keep global temperatures from increasing by less than 2C above pre-industrial levels, after which the effects would spiral out of control.

Artur Runge-Metzger, the EU's chief negotiator, said the current voluntary pledges delivered "at best half of the global emissions reductions needed".

"Those who seem to think that it is enough for current pledges to stay as they are up to 2020 seem to be overlooking those facts," he said.

"The message from the science is crystal clear: we have to act now."

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, he said that other countries had in the past hidden behind the US inaction to avoid taking action themselves.

He agreed with the authors of the letter to Mrs Clinton that a refusal by the US to negotiate its position could stall the summit.

"It will always have an effect," he said. "The bigger countries, the major economies, will always look towards the US.

"We would expect from the US that it engages in a dialogue to find more ways to reduce emission in the coming 10 years and to do that under a collective exercise under the (UN climate summit)."

The African delegation has also expressed frustration at the US position.

Also at Durban yesterday, it emerged that commercial banks including Barclays, JP Morgan Chase and Royal Bank of Scotland, have nearly doubled their support for the global coal industry since 2005, the year the Kyoto Protocol came into force.

The total value of financing for 31 major coal-mining companies and 40 producers of coal-fired electricity amounted to 232 billion euros over the five years, according to the lending portfolios of 93 of the world's leading banks.

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