DOHA, Qatar -- Anticipating an onslaught of criticism from poor nations, the United States claimed "enormous" strides in reducing greenhouse emissions at the opening of UN climate talks yesterday, despite failing to join other industrialized nations in committing to binding cuts.
Speaking for a coalition of developed nations known as the G77, Su Wei of China said rich nations should become party to an extended Kyoto Protocol, an emissions deal for some industrialized countries that the Americans long ago rejected, or at least make "comparable mitigation commitments."
The United States rejected Kyoto because it didn't impose any binding commitments on major developing countries such as China, now the world's No. 1 carbon emitter, and India.
U.S. delegate Jonathan Pershing offered no new sweeteners to the poor countries, only reiterating what the United States has done to tackle global warming: investing heavily in clean energy, doubling fuel efficiency standards and reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants. Pershing also said the United States would not increase its earlier commitment of cutting emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. It is halfway to that target.
"I would suggest those who don't follow what the U.S. is doing may not be informed of the scale and extent of the effort, but it's enormous," he said.
"It doesn't mean enough is being done. It's clear the global community, and that includes us, has to do more if we are going to succeed at avoiding the damages projected in a warming world," Pershing added.
The battles between rich and poor nations have often undermined talks and stymied efforts to reach a deal to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), compared with preindustrial times. A recent World Bank projection showed temperatures are expected to increase by up to 4 degrees C (7.2 F) by 2100.
Countries are hoping to build on the momentum of last year's talks in Durban, South Africa, where nearly 200 nations agreed to a deadline of 2015 to adopt a new treaty and extend Kyoto between five and eight years. The problem is that only the European Union and a handful of other nations, which together account for less than 15 percent of global emissions, are willing to commit to that.
Environmentalists fear holding the talks in Qatar, the world's biggest per capita emitter, could slow progress. They argue that the Persian Gulf emirate has shown little interest in climate talks and has failed to rein in its lavish lifestyle and big-spending ways.