US defends 'enormous' climate efforts at UN talks

DOHA, Qatar (AP) _ 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.
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.
``Climate change is no longer some distant threat for the
future, but is with us today,'' said Greenpeace climate campaigner
Martin Kaiser, who was also at the Doha talks. ``At the end of a
year that has seen the impacts of climate change devastate homes
and families around the world, the need for action is obvious and
urgent.''
Many scientists say that extreme weather events, such as
Hurricane Sandy's onslaught on the U.S. East Coast, will become
more frequent as the Earth warms, although it is impossible to
attribute individual weather events to climate change.
The Kyoto Protocol is seen as the most important climate
agreement reached in the U.N. process so far. It expires this year,
so negotiators in Doha will try to extend it as a stopgap measure
until a wider deal can be reached.
The problem is that only the European Union and a handful of
other countries _ that together are responsible for than 15 percent
of global emissions _ are willing to set emissions targets for a
second commitment period of Kyoto.
The U.S. rejected the Kyoto accord because it didn't impose
binding commitments on major developing countries such as India and
China, which is now the world's top carbon emitter.
China and other developing countries want to maintain a clear
division, saying climate change is mainly a legacy of Western
industrialization and that their own emissions must be allowed to
grow as their economies expand, lifting millions of people out of
poverty.
That discord scuttled attempts to forge a climate deal in
Copenhagen in 2009 and risks a recurrence in Doha, as talks begin
on a new global deal that is supposed to be adopted in 2015 and
implemented in 2020.
Environmentalists found the choice of Qatar as host of the
two-week conference ironic. The tiny Persian Gulf emirate owes its
wealth to large deposits of gas and oil, and it emits more
greenhouse gases per capita than any other nation.
Qatar has not even announced any climate action in the U.N.
process, and former Qatari oil minister Abdullah Bin Hamad
al-Attiyah didn't do so when he opened the conference Monday.
``We should not concentrate on the per capita (emissions). We
should concentrate on the amount from each country,'' al-Attiyah
told reporters. ``I think Qatar is the right place to host'' the
conference, he said.

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