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11-29-2005, 01:41 PM
U.S. won't play ball at climate conference
U.S. delegate plans to resist United Nations post-Kyoto pact Royal Society head warns of climate's `mass destruction'

Nov. 29, 2005. 06:57 AM

MONTREAL—The United States appears determined to scuttle efforts here to agree on future measures to combat climate change.

"We're going to resist it, obviously," said Harlan Watson, head of the U.S. delegation, of a proposed agreement across nations on the issue of climate change. His comments came before the official opening of the two-week United Nations conference.

Environment Minister Stéphane Dion spent much of the first day insisting he'd try, as conference president, to get all 189 countries to agree on a plan to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The key, he said, is national targets for cuts under the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 centrepiece of the battle against climate change. "We believe in the necessity of targets."

But Watson was adamant: "We've made it clear on a number of levels to the Canadian government — we feel very strongly that it's not appropriate; the ground is not there," he said in an interview with BBC Radio.

The conference, bringing 10,000 delegates and others to downtown Montreal, is intended to launch work on a plan for further action after the first phase of the Protocol ends in seven years.

The United States signed the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the original loose agreement to combat an environmental menace that, most scientists say, threatens drought, storms, floods and starvation across the world.

The Americans were among 40 "developed" countries that also accepted mandatory targets under the protocol. They backed out after George W. Bush was elected president. Now, critics say, the U.S. is determined to undermine the Montreal conference.

American delegates participate in conference sessions that deal with the convention, but have only observer status at talks on the Protocol.

Dion said he'd spend the first few days of the conference listening. "We ... need to explore options in a manner that reflects the full range of interests" of all the countries, including the U.S., that signed the convention.

But Watson made it clear nothing substantial will come from the sessions in which he is involved. "There are many, many different ideas. People are not yet ready to move ahead under the convention. The Kyoto (members) though, ought to be able to move ahead under the protocol."

Environmentalists insist the conference should ignore the Americans. Others argue that would hobble action on climate change.

The U.S. spews a quarter of world's greenhouse gases. This year it enlisted five other big polluters — Australia, China, Japan, India and South Korea — in an "Asia-Pacific Partnership" to promote its view that voluntary measures and new technologies will eventually solve climate change.

Dion also responded to calls by 50 Canadian climate scientists for a crash research program, reported exclusively by the Star yesterday. He said Ottawa had significantly boosted money for climate research at universities but acknowledged funding for similar work by government scientists had suffered.

"Maybe that is something that needs to be corrected," the minister said.

Meanwhile the retiring president of Britain's elite science body, the Royal Society, said progress at the Montreal meeting was essential for the future of humankind.

In a farewell speech to be delivered Wednesday, Lord May of Oxford said the potential effects of climate change invite comparison with "weapons of mass destruction." Hurricanes made more severe by global warming could make the U.S. Gulf Coast "effectively uninhabitable by the end of the century," he warned, adding countries must recognize the need to sever the link between economic growth and increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. Parts of the speech were released in advance.

Dion has been trying to get a deal with Quebec over the application of the Kyoto protocol, but Quebec Environment Minister Thomas Mulcair said he won't be forced into signing an agreement just because of the conference.