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U.S. Attacked on Its Climate Stance

Canada's Paul Martin, at a U.N. conference on global warming, warns that all nations must work to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

December 08, 2005|Miguel Bustillo | Times Staff Writer

MONTREAL — Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin took aim at the United States on Wednesday for its refusal to negotiate a new global warming treaty, telling a United Nations conference that the world's most powerful economy needed to resume participating in international talks to reduce greenhouse gases.

"Climate change is a global challenge that demands a global response. Yet there are nations that resist, voices that attempt to diminish the urgency or dismiss the science, or declare, either in word or indifference, that this is not our problem to solve. Well, let me tell you, it is our problem to solve," Martin said as he opened the high-level talks at the U.N. Climate Change Conference here.

Martin's remarks triggered applause from a hall filled with delegates from dozens of countries, who are here to begin talks on a new global warming treaty to take effect once the original commitments of the current pact, the Kyoto Protocol, expire in 2012.

Later, at a news conference, Martin, who is in the midst of an election campaign, singled out the United States by name, saying, "To the reticent nations, including the United States, I say this: There is such a thing as a global conscience."

The United States, the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases, and Australia are the only two large nations to reject the Kyoto Protocol, which requires developed countries to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases to roughly 5% below 1990 levels.

Most climate scientists say much steeper reductions in greenhouse gases -- emitted when fossil fuels combust in cars and power plants -- will be needed to curtail the greenhouse effect, which has already begun to increase temperatures, raise sea levels and affect weather patterns around the world.

President Bush, who has argued that the Kyoto Protocol's firm caps on greenhouse gases would damage the U.S. economy, has dispatched a negotiating team to the conference that has opposed any talks on a new pact -- a stance that has begun to draw open criticism from other nations.

Stavros Dimas, the European Union's top environmental official, criticized the Bush administration during a meeting with reporters, saying that "we will continue to talk to our American partners and remind them of their commitments."

Dimas and other European officials contend that by refusing to discuss new global warming obligations in Montreal, the U.S. is reneging on a pledge Bush made at a Group of 8 summit in Scotland this year with leaders of the world's other major economies.

Undersecretary of State Paula J. Dobriansky, the highest-ranking Bush administration official at the Montreal talks, forcefully defended the president's position Wednesday, saying the administration thought it could accomplish more to reduce greenhouse gases outside international treaties.

"It is our belief that progress cannot be made through these formalized discussions," Dobriansky said, adding, "One size does not fit all."

The Bush team said it was sending more-senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to the first formal meeting of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate scheduled for January in Sydney, Australia.

The partnership represents a nonbinding agreement among the United States, Australia, China and other nations to share clean energy technologies; the administration has begun promoting it as an alternative process.

Such initiatives have not appeased critics such as U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who traveled to Montreal and told reporters that Bush was failing to lead on global warming.

Bingaman was one of two dozen U.S. senators, including 20 Democrats, who signed a letter criticizing the Bush position this week, arguing that the country has a moral obligation to engage in talks because it signed an earlier U.N. pact that pledged to avoid "dangerous" human interference with the climate.

On Wednesday, 25 economists, including three Nobel laureates, released a similar statement calling on the U.S. to establish market-based approaches to reducing greenhouse gases to avoid what they predicted would be the far more costly consequences of a changing climate.

"What you are beginning to see in Alaska and in these Pacific islands is the canary in the coal mine," Columbia University economist Geoffrey Heal said, citing melting in the Arctic and the sea level rise in the South Pacific that has begun to require relocation of entire villages on some islands. "This process is starting, and frankly it is starting faster than anyone expected."

Meanwhile, the governing council of the indigenous Inuit people filed a human rights claim, accusing the U.S. of threatening the Inuit's hunting-based economy and cultural existence by causing mass melting of sea ice in the Arctic.

"What is happening affects virtually every facet of Inuit life. We are people of the ice," said Sheila Watt-Cloutier, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, a group that represents more than 150,000 Inuit in Canada, Greenland, Alaska and Russia.

Referring to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, a comprehensive report released last year that warns of massive melting to come, Watt-Cloutier said, "How would you respond if an international assessment of more than 300 scientists concluded that your way of life was doomed?"

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