21.09.2010: World powers tackle climate change

The 17 nations responsible for 80 per cent of carbon emissions blamed for global warming are in talks to unblock stalled climate negotiations, but analysts expect little progress.

The two-day Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate kicked off on Monday with top government envoys, including US special envoy for climate change Todd Stern.

The New York talks include representatives from Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, and the United States.

US President Barack Obama launched the meetings to facilitate climate talks in the wake of last year's disappointing UN conference in Copenhagen.

"There's ongoing efforts to make sure that countries are living up to the commitments made last year," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said, referring to the meetings that began here Monday.

The successor conference to the Copenhagen meeting is set for this November in Cancun, Mexico.

Michael Levi, an analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations, said, "I don't think anyone is expecting any major announcement."

"This is a working meeting... a lot of important players are at the same place at the same time" during the United Nations General Assembly, he told AFP.

Levi said the envoys would not seek to resolve the fierce debate over climate change but rather find ways to better define the issues, acknowledging the Cancun meeting would likely be another stalemate.

"No one is going to crack a big deal at this," he added.

Environmentalist Bill McKibben, co-founder of the environmental group 350.org, said the US Congress's failure to pass a law to combat climate change made it "very difficult" to clinch a strong agreement in Cancun.

"I think that the next two years will be a disappointing time in terms of actions and that we will have to use that time to build a powerful movement to get real action the next time there will be a political window that opens up," he added.

Levi warned that a period of uncertainty could follow the November mid-term legislative elections in the United States in which Republicans are poised to retake control of the House of Representatives from Obama's fellow Democrats and increase their numbers in the Senate.

Last June, the House approved a bill that would launch the country's first nationwide "cap-and-trade" system that restricts carbon emissions blamed for global warming and allows trading in credits.

The Senate has yet to offer companion legislation, amid opposition from Republicans and Democrats from states dependent on the coal and hydrocarbon industries.

"Real change contradicts the business model of the fossil fuel industry," McKibben said, saying the industry was too powerful for Congress to effectively tackle reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. He urged more global action to create a "mass movement" in support of cutting emissions.

In October 2009, his 350.org organised a major day of political action, with 5245 protests and other events across 181 countries.

Environment ministers from 45 countries are scheduled to meet in Geneva in September at the invitation of the Swiss and Mexican governments.

And negotiators from the 194 signatories to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change are to meet in Tianjin, China, for a final preparatory round of talks in October.

Crowley said Stern took part in talks in New York involving US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa. Stern also joined Clinton's talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

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