POZNAN, Poland (Reuters) - The United States defended President George W. Bush’s much-criticized climate policies on Monday at United Nations talks, where President-elect Barack Obama won praise for an “ambitious” change of course.
“You are quite right. We have had a lot of criticisms and I can show you some scars,” chief U.S. negotiator Harlan Watson quipped at a news conference on the opening day of December 1-12 talks on a new climate treaty by 187 nations in Poland.
Bush has often been accused of doing too little to combat global warming and angered many U.S. allies in 2001 by failing to back the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N. plan under which all other industrialized nations aim to curb greenhouse gases until 2012.
But Watson said the United States under Bush had promoted new green technologies, fostered talks among major emitters including China and India, and worked to cut emissions of greenhouse gases linked to protecting the ozone layer.
Bush has denounced Kyoto as too costly and said it wrongly omitted 2012 goals for developed nations. The U.N. talks in Poland, of 10,700 delegates, are at step to work out a new, global treaty to succeed Kyoto by the end of 2009.
Obama won praise for planning cuts as part of a fight to avert heatwaves, droughts, more powerful cyclones and rising seas. Bush’s domestic plans foresee a peak in U.S. emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, only in 2025.
“I am delighted to see that ... Obama is planning ambitious energy and climate policies as part of the solution to the economic slowdown,” Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a speech.
Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, also hailed Obama’s “ambitious” goal of cutting U.S. emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. They are now 14 percent above 1990.
The Bush administration says many criticisms are misguided — emissions in Kyoto countries including Canada, Australia, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Ireland and New Zealand are all further above 1990 levels than U.S. emissions.
Watson said the outgoing administration would not stand in the way of new policies by Obama, who takes office on January 20, 2009.
“We are going to make positive contributions here so that the next team can pick up the ball and carry it forward,” he said.
Watson said Obama’s plan to cut emissions “is not cost free. It is possible, but there is going to be a price.”
It was wrong to consider signing up for cuts in emissions at U.N. talks before passing legislation at home, he added.
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Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Sophie Hares