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Obstacles remain for climate change consensus
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Despite calls by the United Nations for agreement on curbing greenhouse emissions, obstacles remained for participants to reach consensus at the Hawaii international climate change meeting, conference sources said on Thursday.


The two-day conference, known as the Major Economies Meeting on Energy Safety and Climate Change, was marked by skepticism as delegates were heatedly debating on ways to deter climate change without halting development.


About 160 people representing 16 countries, the United Nations and the European Union (EU) are attending the meeting, the second in a series of talks initiated last year by US President George W. Bush, with the aim of advancing UN climate change negotiations.


Bush initiated the talks when the United States was under growing pressure to contribute more to solving the problem of greenhouse-gas emissions.


The meeting itself was met with skepticism from the beginning, particularly from the EU and environmentalist groups. Although the Bush administration has repeatedly said the Hawaii meeting is simply to supplement the UN process, there are suspicions that it is intended to sidetrack the UN climate talks and push forward its own agenda on the issue, which the US government denies.


Some European countries had threatened to boycott the Honolulu meeting during the UN climate conference in Bali, Indonesia last month. But they changed their position after the United States agreed to a roadmap in a last-minute compromise at the Bali talks.


In the eyes of some Europeans, Bush is primarily trying to neutralize climate as an issue in the forthcoming US elections, said conference source, who refused to be named.


Observers said the fact that the Bush administration launched the major economics meeting doesn't indicate some change in the position of this administration.


"There has been no change in position whatsoever in this White House. They were hoping to sell their position to the rest of the world and that's not working," said Angela Anderson of the non-partisan Pew Environment Group.


As for developing countries, they are suspicious that the United States was using the meeting to shift the blame on to them.


The US officials attending the meeting reiterated that the burden of cutting emissions must be shared among all the major polluters, including major developing countries such as China, India and Brazil.


Also at issue was the focus of the meeting. The US wanted the meeting to shift its attention to discussing specific steps to be taken in addressing climate change, such as eliminating trade barriers for climate-beneficial goods and services, while the EU insisted that focus be placed on mandatory limits on carbon emissions specified by the Kyoto Protocol.


After the talks, an EU representative said the meeting was "constructive" but differences remained. He refused to give details.


At the meeting, some participating countries adopted a wait-and-see attitude as the United States will have a new government next year, which might change the Bush administration's widely-criticized climate policy, said one source.


"At this time of change, few people anticipate the Bush administration to make any major moves on climate policy," the source said on condition of anonymity.


The US officials were trying to alleviate such worries. When asked by Xinhua whether such policy change was possible, Andy Karsner, US Assistant Secretary of Energy for Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, said his nation would try every means possible to ensure the continuity of policy.


He said the Bush administration has officials and experts who had worked at the Clinton administration before, and this indicated that the US policy was not changeable.


The UN representatives were trying to bring the conflicting parties closer.


"There is no time left that the world can lose. All efforts now must be focused on getting the negotiations on a climate change deal off the ground to be ready by 2009," UN representative Yvo de Boer said.


But for lack of consensus, no major decisions or policies were expected from the two-day conference, the US officials hinted.


The meeting was seen more as a way of getting the world's largest economies to push the process along, said C. Boyden Gray, US special envoy to the European Union.


"The end product is the leaders’ declaration coming out in July, out of the G8 summit. We hope," Gray said.


In regards to positive aspects of the meeting, one conference source said all parties agreed that the series of major economics meetings are supplementary to the Kyoto Protocol and not its replacement.


For the Europeans, the US engagement was what they expected the most at present. "They are relieved, however, that the US does appear actively engaged in climate talks at last," one source said.


Environmental groups watching the meeting were not optimistic. Henry Curtis, executive director of the Life of the Land, told Xinhua that he was not hopeful about any agreement.


"At most, it will be a voluntary standard that doesn't have to take place for five decades, and by then it will be way too late," Curtis said.


(Xinhua News Agency February 1, 2008)

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