Kyoto Protocol: U.S. tells UN climate conference it's cutting greenhouse gas emissions

U.S. officials told a U.N. conference on climate change that their government was doing more than most to protect the earth's atmosphere. In response, Leading environmental groups blasted Washington for refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol, a global treaty that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada opened the 10-day U.N. Climate Control Conference on Monday, with about 10,000 experts from 180 nations, to brainstorm on ways to slow the alarming effects of greenhouses gases and global warming. The conference aims to forge new agreements on cutting poisonous emissions, considered by many scientists to be the planet's most pressing environmental issue.

Dr. Harlan L. Watson, senior climate negotiator for the U.S. Department of State, said that while President George W. Bush declined to join the treaty, the U.S. leader takes global warming seriously. He noted greenhouse gas emissions had actually gone down by .8 percent under Bush.

Watson said the United States spends more than US$5 billion (Ђ4.3 billion) a year on efforts to slow the deterioration of the earth's atmosphere by supporting climate change research and technology, and that Bush had committed to cutting greenhouses gases some 18 percent by 2012.

Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club Canada, however, accused the world's biggest polluter of trying to derail the Kyoto accord. The United States, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, saying it would harm the U.S. economy and is flawed by the lack of restrictions on emissions by emerging economic powers such as China and India.

In the first ever meeting of all 140 signatories of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, Canada's Environment Minister Stephane Dion is juggling the presidency of the 11th U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Control while facing the imminent collapse of his country's government.

Opposition leaders have garnered enough votes in the House of Commons to topple Prime Minister Paul Martin's minority government in a no-confidence vote Monday night, forcing him to dissolve Parliament and set a day for national elections in January.

Though Dion would remain in office, he would also be called upon to begin campaigning for his Liberal Party and could be mightily distracted. Opening the conference, Dion vowed to stay the course and described climate change as "the greatest environment hazard" facing mankind.

The Kyoto accord, negotiated in Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto, targets carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases blamed for rising global temperatures that many scientists say are disrupting weather patterns. The treaty, which went into effect in February, calls on the top 35 industrialized nations to cut emissions by 5.2 percent below their 1990 levels by 2012. This conference will set agreements on how much more emissions should be cut after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires, though signatories are already falling short of their targets.

Canada is up there with Spain, Ireland, Greece and five other nations as having the highest gas emissions. According to the United Nations, Spain is the worst, with a nearly 42 percent increase in emissions between 1990 and 2003; Canada stands at 24 percent and the United States experienced an increase of 13 percent.

The targets vary by region: The European Union initially committed to cutting emissions to 8 percent below 1990 levels; the United States agreed to a 7 percent reduction before Bush denounced the pact in 2001, saying it would cost too much and exacerbate an already bothersome energy problem for the world's largest consumer of fossil fuels, the AP reports.

As signatories to Kyoto's parent treaty, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, Washington is still an active participant at the conference, even if it prefers investments in climate science and technology rather than mandatory emissions caps. Many had hoped Canada would persuade its neighbor to join the Kyoto fold, though Washington no longer has that option.


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