US-Europe split over Copenhagen climate deal

Key differences have emerged between the US and Europe over the structure of a new worldwide treaty on global warming. Sources on the European side say the US approach could undermine the new treaty and weaken the world’s ability to cut carbon emissions.
The treaty will be negotiated in December at a UN meeting in Copenhagen and is widely billed as the last chance to save the planet from a temperature rise of 2C or higher, which the EU considers dangerous. News of the split comes amid mounting concern that the Copenhagen talks will not make the necessary progress.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, said that negotiations had stalled and need to ‘get moving’. Ahead of an unprecedented UN climate change summit of almost 100 heads of government in New York next week, Moon said the leaders held in their hands “the future of this entire humanity”.

The dispute between the US and Europe is over the way national carbon reduction targets would be counted. Europe has been pushing to retain structures and systems set up under the Kyoto protocol, the existing global treaty on climate change. US negotiators have told European counterparts that the Obama administration intends to sweep away almost all of the Kyoto architecture and replace it with a system of its own design.

The issue is highly sensitive and European officials are reluctant to be seen to openly criticise the Obama administration, which they acknowledge has engaged with climate change in a way that President Bush refused to. But they fear the US move could sink efforts to agree a robust new treaty in Copenhagen.

The US distanced itself from Kyoto under President Bush because it made no demands on China, and the treaty remains political poison in Washington. European negotiators knew the US would be reluctant to embrace Kyoto, but they hoped they would be able to use it as a foundation for a new agreement.

If Kyoto is scrapped, it could take several years to negotiate a replacement framework, the source added, a delay that could strike a terminal blow at efforts to prevent dangerous climate change.

According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), world emissions need to peak by 2015 to give any chance of avoiding a 2C rise. Europe is unlikely to stand up to the US, the source added.

The US plan is likely to anger many in the developing world, who are keen to retain Kyoto because of the obligations it makes on rich countries.

The US is yet to offer full details on how its scheme might work, though a draft ‘implementing agreement’ submitted to the UN by the Obama team in May contained a key clause that emissions reductions would be subject to ‘conformity with domestic law’. Legal experts say the phrase is designed to protect the US from being forced to implement international action it does not agree with.

The move reflects a ‘prehistoric’ level of debate on climate change in the wider US, according to an high-ranking European official, and anxiety in the Obama administration about its ability to get a new global treaty ratified in the US Senate, where it would require a two-thirds majority vote. The US has not ratified a major international environment treaty since 1992 and President Clinton never submitted the Kyoto protocol for approval, after a unanimous Senate vote indicated it would be rejected on economic grounds.

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