U.S. touts progress in lowering emissions as climate talks open

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DOHA, Qatar -- Anticipating an onslaught of criticism from poor nations, the United States claimed "enormous" strides in reducing greenhouse emissions at the opening of U.N. climate talks Monday, despite failing to join other industrialized nations in committing to binding cuts.

The pre-emptive U.S. approach underscores one of the major showdowns expected at the two-week conference, as China pushes developed countries to take an even greater role in tackling global warming.

Speaking for a coalition of developed nations known as the G77, China's delegate, Su Wei, said rich nations should become party to an extended Kyoto Protocol -- an emissions deal for some industrialized nations that the Americans long ago rejected -- or at least make "comparable mitigation commitments."

The United States rejected Kyoto because it didn't impose any binding commitments on major developing countries such as India and China, which is now the world's No. 1 carbon emitter.

U.S. delegate Jonathan Pershing offered no new sweeteners to the poor nations, only reiterating what the United States has done to tackle global warming: investing heavily in clean energy, doubling vehicle fuel-efficiency standards and reducing coal-fired power plant emissions. Mr. Pershing also said the United States would not increase its earlier commitment of cutting emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. It is half way to that target.

"I would suggest those who don't follow what the U.S. is doing may not be informed of the scale and extent of the effort, but it's enormous," Mr. Pershing said. "It doesn't mean enough is being done. It's clear the global community, and that includes us, has to do more if we are going to succeed at avoiding the damages projected in a warming world.

"It is not to say we haven't acted. We have, and we have acted with enormous urgency and singular purpose," he said.

The battles between rich and poor nations have often undermined talks in the past decade and stymied efforts to reach a deal to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C (3.6 F), compared with preindustrial times. Efforts taken in the absence of a deal to rein in emissions, reduce deforestation and promote clean technology are not getting the job done. A recent projection by the World Bank showed that temperatures are expected to increase by as much as 4 degrees C (7.2 F) by 2100.

Participating nations are hoping to build on the momentum of last year's talks in Durban, South Africa, where nearly 200 of them agreed to restart stalled negotiations with a 2015 deadline to adopt a new treaty and extend Kyoto between five and eight years. The problem is that only the European Union and a handful of other nations, which together account for less than 15 percent of global emissions, are willing to commit to that.

Delegates in the Qatari capital of Doha are also hoping to raise billions of dollars to help developing nations adapt to a shifting climate. "We owe it to our people, the global citizenry. We owe it to our children to give them a safer future than what they are currently facing," said South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who led last year's talks in Durban.

Environmentalists fear that holding the talks in Qatar -- the world's biggest per-capita emitter -- could slow progress. They argue that the Persian Gulf emirate has shown little interest in climate talks and has failed to reign in its lavish lifestyle and big-spending ways.

There was hope among activists that Qatar might use Monday's opening speech to set the conference tone. But former Qatari oil minister Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, the conference president, didn't offer any voluntary emission targets or climate funding for poor nations.

Mr. Attiyah defended Qatar's environmental record at a later news conference, insisting that it was working to reduce emissions from gas flaring and its oil fields. Qatar is already doing plenty to help poor nations with financing, he said, adding that it was unfair to focus on per-capita emissions.

"We should not concentrate on per capita. We should concentrate on the amount and quantity that each country produces individually," Mr. Attiyah said. "The quantity is the biggest challenge, not per capita."

The concentration of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide has jumped 20 percent since 2000, according to a U.N. report released last week. The report also showed that there is a growing gap between what governments are doing to curb emissions and what needs to be done to protect the world from potentially dangerous levels of warming.

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