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COPENHAGEN -- The top U.S. climate negotiator stressed today that the next international global warming agreement must include major commitments from a suite of fast-growing countries; otherwise, greenhouse gas emissions will go up too fast to solve the problem.
"If you care about the science -- and we do -- there's no way to solve this problem by giving the major developing countries a pass," State Department envoy Todd Stern told reporters during the third day of U.N. climate talks here. "We're not talking about the same kind of need for actions from the vast majority of developing countries. But the major ones, it's going to be absolutely essential."
Citing International Energy Agency data, Stern said U.S. emissions are peaking and will trend down over the next two decades, while 97 percent of the growth in greenhouse gases between now and 2030 will come from the developing world, with China contributing about half of that.
"China -- I'm not being critical -- has an extraordinarily successful economy, and it's in a different stage of development than we are," Stern added. "But emissions are emissions. You've just got to do the math. It's not a matter of politics or morality or anything else. It's just math. And you cannot get the kind of reductions you need globally if China is not a major player in this. That's the reality."
"The historical responsibility of developing countries is actually low," Su said, pointing to a pledge from President Obama to curb U.S. emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Su offered up his own interpretation of the U.S. figures to say that Obama's efforts, when calculated against the 1990 baseline widely used in international talks, amounts to a 1 percent cut.
"I'm not very good at English, but I doubt that just a 1 percent reduction can be regarded as remarkable or notable," Su said. "In other words, the emissions of the United States continue to grow even though the United States has long completed industrialization."
U.S. officials said yesterday that Su had misinterpreted the numbers based off 1990 levels and that emissions would have fallen by about 6 percent from that threshold. Legislation moving through Congress uses a 2005 baseline, a point that Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) has criticized for creating an apples-to-oranges scenario making comparisons easily manipulated on the international stage.
Stern spoke within hours of his arrival in the Denmark. He said he would be working over the next nine days to reach a political agreement on the key contours of a new international agreement that would succeed the Kyoto Protocol.
Within that new accord, Stern said, the United States will insist on accountability and transparency from developing countries as they make their own commitments, a key threshold for senators who ultimately must ratify a new climate treaty.