WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s top climate change negotiator on Thursday said international talks to cut carbon emissions were “difficult,” adding that the U.S. Senate must pass a domestic bill to fight global warming to give the talks a boost.
“Let me say bluntly that the tenor of negotiations in the formal UN track has been difficult,” said Todd Stern, Obama’s special envoy for climate change.
In prepared testimony to the House energy independence and global warming panel, Stern added, “Time is short and the negotiations have still too often foundered as a result of the ... developed/developing country divide.”
The senior Republican on the committee, James Sensenbrenner, zeroed in on one developing country, China, complaining that negotiators are not insisting on enough progress from Beijing, which is becoming the world’s largest producer of carbon dioxide pollutants.
While China would reduce its emissions growth rate under ideas being discussed, Sensenbrenner noted that overall U.S. carbon output would be required to drop.
That, Sensenbrenner said, “flunks the good-deal test by a long, long way.”
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Stern said that while a date for China’s emissions to hit a peak and then begin falling were not being negotiated, he said that “some time in the 2020s” was what some had in mind.
Stern told the committee that a “pivotal” component of an international climate change deal later this year will be steps various countries will take to help fund developing countries’ efforts to reduce carbon emissions and deal with flooding, droughts and other effects of global warming.
Senator John Kerry on Thursday also stressed that time is running short to work out an international climate agreement. Kerry, who is working with other lawmakers to write a U.S. climate change bill, said countries must begin nailing down some details at a G-20 meeting this month.
“It’s critical to try to come out of there with a stronger sense of what the real target is going to be and what the process is going to be going into Copenhagen,” Kerry said at an American Security Project event in Washington.
Later this month, finance ministers from 20 major economies will meet in Pittsburgh to discuss global economic concerns. But they also are expected to talk about climate change financing.
Stern warned that some aid estimates being “tossed around ... are completely, wildly unrealistic.” He was referring to one that put the need at 1 percent of some countries’ gross domestic product, which in the case of the United States would be about $130 billion.
Speaking to reporters following the hearing, Stern did not give a more realistic estimate of U.S. contributions to an aid program. But the EU outlined a plan on Thursday to offer poor countries between 2 billion and 15 billion euros a year by 2020.
The Obama administration wants Congress to pass a climate bill by December that would put American utilities, oil refineries and factories on a path to significantly cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases associated with global warming.
That deadline is tailored for December’s UN meeting in Copenhagen that aims to set a new global regime for reducing carbon pollution after the 2012 expiration of the Kyoto Protocol.
While the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in June to reduce U.S. emissions from 2005 levels by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, the legislation faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, where even many Democrats are leery.
“Nothing the United States can do is more important for the international negotiation process than passing robust, comprehensive clean energy legislation as soon as possible,” Stern told the House panel.
Despite the tough international negotiations, Stern devoted a significant portion of his testimony detailing progress by China, India, South Africa and other developing countries toward controlling carbon emissions.
“The good news — and it is good — is that the major developing countries have started recognizing the seriousness of the problem, their own vulnerability to it, and the need for global action,” Stern said. “In some cases, they are taking action at the federal level that outstrips our own.”
Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe, Editing by Philip Barbara