Under pressure on emissions, U.S. refuses to back down at Bali talks
American negotiators refused to back down in their opposition to mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions on Thursday, even as a U.S. Senate panel endorsed sharp reductions in pollution blamed for global warming.The United States, the world's largest producer of such gases, has resisted calls for strict limits on emissions at the United Nations climate conference here, which is aimed at starting negotiations for an agreement to follow the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.The U.S. stance suffered a blow when the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a bill Wednesday to cut U.S. emissions by 70 percent by 2050 from electric power plants, manufacturing and transportation. The bill now goes to the full Senate.But the U.S. negotiator in Bali, Harlan Watson, said the Senate move would not influence Washington's position in Bali."In our process, a vote for movement of a bill out of committee does not ensure its ultimate passage," he told reporters. "I don't know the details, but we will not alter our posture here."The two-week conference, which opened Monday, has broken into a tense standoff between two camps, delegates said. On one side, the majority, are supporters of mandatory emissions cuts, and on the other are opponents of mandatory cuts, like the United States.Scientists say the world must act quickly to slash greenhouse gas emissions and limit the rise in global temperatures or risk triggering devastating droughts and flooding, strangling world food production and killing off animal species.Washington's isolation in Bali has increased following Australia's announcement on Monday that it has reversed its opposition to the Kyoto pact and started the ratification process - winning applause at the conference's opening session. That left the United States as the only industrialized nation to oppose the agreement.On Thursday, the Australian delegation said Canberra supported a UN document that mentioned cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The government has already proposed 60 percent cuts by 2050.But Australia's new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, refused on Thursday to commit to the 2020 figures, saying it was premature to set firm targets before he receives a comprehensive report that he has commissioned on the issue. The report is to be completed next year.The U.S. Senate action cheered environmentalists and others in Bali who are clamoring for dramatic action to stop global warming.Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, led off his daily briefing Thursday by hailing the "encouraging sign" from the United States.Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said of the Senate measure: "This is a very welcome development. It shows the increasing isolation of the Bush administration in terms of U.S. policy on this issue."David Waskow, of the Oxfam humanitarian agency, said the Senate legislation was a positive signal to developing nations and others in Bali that the United States may be ready to assume a more active role in battling climate change."It's one of the things that point the way to having the United States re-engage in the negotiations," he said, "and, really, I think in many ways demonstrates the U.S. leadership on these issues."