Business groups see some benefits for U.S. in climate talk results

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 12, 2011 

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government and some major business groups say the climate talks that just wrapped up in Durban, South Africa, were a success for the United States, though some environmentalists voiced disappointment.

The talks ended Sunday without pledges to speed pollution reductions as fast as economists and scientists say will be necessary to improve the odds of avoiding dangerous climate changes. Instead, negotiators agreed to work toward a global emissions-reduction agreement that would involve all nations beginning in 2020.

"The significance is they finally got developing countries to commit to at least having a discussion of a binding agreement that they would be party to," said Stephen Eule, vice president for climate and technology at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's energy institute.

The climate talks also moved closer to setting up financing and technology transfers to help poor countries cope with climate change. American companies see potential there "to enable greater private-sector participation in achieving climate solutions," said Jake Colvin, vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council.

"Despite being somewhat constrained by finances and politics in Washington, the Obama administration helped drive a successful conclusion to the talks and came out looking pretty good," he said in an e-mail.

The chief U.S. negotiator, Todd D. Stern, said the talks had been a success for the United States. He said the agreement created a system to monitor emissions cuts, set up a Green Climate Fund for poor countries, and cleared the way for negotiations on an emissions reduction agreement that would apply to both developed and developing countries.

Eule said the Chamber of Commerce has long said that in order to have an effective treaty, large developing countries such as China and India would have to be included, because most emissions increases will be coming from the developing world.

"So we think this is a promising development, but we still have to wait and see how the negotiations go," he said.

The goal is to finish the negotiations in 2015 for an agreement that would go into force in 2020. It's likely to take longer, given the history of past climate negotiations, Eule said.

"For us, we've been pushing for a predictable environment for business to operate in," he said. "We've seen some things in the area of climate finance, in technology and a few other areas where they're beginning to open up for business, and that's good. We're looking for greater avenues for business involvement so we can bring our expertise to bear on a lot of the issues in front of the talks."

The Durban agreement didn't commit the United States or other countries to speed their emissions reductions. The U.S. has a goal of 17 percent reductions from 2005 levels by 2020, but no national plan to achieve it.

The White House didn't comment on the outcome. President Barack Obama spoke about climate last in Australia last month, in response to a question from an Australian reporter.

"I share the view of your prime minister and most scientists in the world that climate change is a real problem and that human activity is contributing to it, and that we all have a responsibility to find ways to reduce our carbon emissions," Obama said then, adding, "advanced economies can't do this alone."

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, in contrast, applied only to developed nations. The United States objected to the omission of large countries such as China and didn't ratify it.

The United Nations Environment Program recently reported that emissions would have to peak before 2020 to have a better than 66 percent chance of keeping temperatures from going beyond a 3.6 degree Fahrenheit (2 degree Celsius) increase over pre-industrial times. The commitments of the world's nations so far fall short of that international goal.

"While negotiators forged a hard-won agreement, countries need to take further steps to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and shift to a lower-carbon and safer future," World Resources Institute climate and energy program director Jennifer Morgan said in a statement.

The anti-poverty group Action Aid USA said in a statement that rich countries didn't do enough to reduce emissions or help poor countries. The Durban meeting set up the Green Climate Fund, but it left for another day decisions about how to raise money for it.

Michael A. Levi, the director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the U.S. did what it set out to do.

"It's naive to think you can change the global economy by having diplomats sit down at the table and come up with a text," he said. "I just don't think that's how international cooperation works. The goal has to be to make it easier to solve the problem, not to solve it."

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