U.S. defends "enormous" climate efforts at U.N. talks
The opening session of the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP 18) in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. / UN FCCC
DOHA, Qatar The U.S. defended its track record on fighting climate change on Monday at U.N. talks, saying it's making "enormous" efforts to slow global warming and help the poor nations most affected by it.
Other countries have accused Washington of hampering the climate talks ever since the Bush administration abandoned the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 treaty limiting emissions of heat-trapping gases by industrialized countries. As negotiators met for a two-week session in oil- and gas-rich Qatar, U.S. delegate Jonathan Pershing suggested America deserves more credit.
"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," Pershing said.
He noted that the Obama administration has taken a series of steps, including sharply increasing fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, and made good on promises of climate financing for poor countries. A climate bill that would have capped emissions stalled in the Senate.
"It doesn't mean enough is being done," Pershing said. "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."
The two-decade-old U.N. talks have not fulfilled their main purpose: reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are warming the planet.
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The goal is to keep the global temperature rise under 2 degrees C (3.6 F), compared to pre-industrial times.
Efforts taken so far to rein in emissions, reduce deforestation and promote clean technology are not getting the job done. A recent projection by the World Bank showed temperatures are expected to increase by up to 4 degrees C (7.2 F) by 2100.
Scientists warn that dangerous warming effects could include flooding of coastal cities and island nations, disruptions to agriculture and drinking water, the spread of diseases and the extinction of species.
Attempts to forge a new climate treaty failed in Copenhagen three years ago, but countries agreed last year to try again, giving themselves a deadline of 2015 to adopt a new pact.
Several issues need to be resolved by then, including how to spread the burden of emissions cuts between rich and poor countries. That's unlikely to be decided in the current talks in the Qatari capital of Doha, where negotiators from nearly 200 countries are focusing on extending the Kyoto Protocol, and trying to raise billions of dollars to help developing countries 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, South Africa.
The U.N. process is often criticized, even ridiculed, both by climate activists who say the talks are too slow and by those who challenge the scientific near-consensus that the global temperature rise is at least partly caused by human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil.
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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