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US Chided for Hindering International Efforts on Climate Change

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS - Disappointed with the U.S. role in international discussions on energy, environmental groups are making fresh calls for Washington to give up its isolationist approach and become part of ongoing global efforts to tackle climate change.

"It is time for the U.S. to acknowledge its responsibility to take immediate and comprehensive action," said Jeffrey Barber of the Integrative Strategies Forum, a U.S.-based group that advocates sustainable development. 0517 02

"Many U.S. citizens are embarrassed by how our government is avoiding its responsibility to take strong action on climate change and to take the lead in promoting sustainable energy," Barber told OneWorld.

Barber and other proponents of sustainable development think the U.S. lack of initiative could hinder international efforts to address climate change.

Those who represented civil society groups in the UN meetings organized by the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) last week noted that the U.S. proposals were either minimal or had no meaningful substance.

The meeting, which concluded last Friday without reaching any agreement on future actions, reflected deep divisions between the rich industrialized nations that are largely responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and others whose economies are mainly based on agriculture.

At the meeting, many countries from the developing South argued that in order to make a shift to clean energy sources, they needed rich countries to fund and transfer the required technologies. They also demanded that industrial nations pledge further cuts in the emissions of greenhouse gases.

On both counts, the United States, which is responsible for one fourth of the world's energy consumption, failed to play any positive role, observers said, adding that many diplomats left for their home countries feeling utterly frustrated and dismayed.

During the CSD meetings, the European Union pushed for a greater role for renewable sources in the global energy mix -- 20 percent by 2010 -- while the Group of 77, which represents the developing world, emphasized a balanced energy mix.

However, the Group itself lacked unity as diplomats from many small island nations held quite opposite views in contrast to those representing countries with larger economies and populations, such as India and Brazil.

Outside the UN, for their part, the Europeans are involved in separate initiatives to persuade the United States to agree on at least some meaningful actions on climate change that go beyond the Kyoto agreement.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change requires the adherent industrialized countries reduce emissions by 2012 to an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels.

Although the United States is responsible for at least 25 percent of total carbon emissions in the world, it is not obligated to meet that requirement because it is not a signatory to the treaty.

Germany, which holds the presidency of the G8 group of industrialized nations, is set to present a draft agreement on climate actions at next month's G8 summit. The German proposal is believed to have full support from Great Britain too.

But some reports suggest that the United States is trying to water down the text, with objections to the draft's target to keep the global rise in temperature below two degrees Celsius in this century and cut 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

A copy of the text obtained by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) indicates that the United States is not willing to accept wording that "climate change is speeding up and will seriously damage our common natural environment and severely weaken [the] global economy."

U.S. officials are also believed to be dismissive of other proposed statements, such as "resolute action is urgently needed in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions" and "we are deeply concerned about the latest findings confirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)."

This year, the IPCC, which consists of more than 1,000 leading scientists, released three voluminous reports warning of rising sea levels and devastating flooding, massive shortages of food, and the extinction of many species of plants and animals.

Considering the Bush administration's practice of sidestepping UN agreements and making alternative deals on international issues, it is likely that Washington might agree to reach some kind of compromise on energy issues with its European partners.

Whatever the outcome of the G8 negotiations, it seems that both the administration and the U.S. Congress have come to face tremendous pressure from grassroots communities calling for a qualitative change in the country's official policy on climate change.

Last month, environmentalists took to the streets in major towns and cities in all 50 states calling for new legislation to address global warming. The campaigners also urged the U.S. public to make informed energy choices.

"Given we are responsible for one quarter of the global energy consumption as well as one quarter of greenhouse gas emissions," said ISF's Barber, "we should accept at least as much responsibility to change this situation."

"We, in the United States, need to dramatically transform the way we produce and consume energy," he added. "Although our president admitted we are 'addicted' to fossil fuels, the continued subsidies and other support for fossil fuels simply feed the addiction, canceling out other efforts to promote a transition to renewables."

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