MEXICO CITY – President Barack Obama's climate envoy dismissed recommendations that the United States and other developed countries reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases 40 percent by 2020.
"The 40 percent below 1990 (levels) is something which in our judgment is not necessary, and not feasible given where we're starting from, so it's not in the cards," Todd Stern said Tuesday at a conference on global warming.
Stern spoke at the end of the two-day meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, a gathering of 19 nations and the European Union that together produce 80 percent of the world's greenhouse gases. The group, called together by Obama, is trying to build a replacement climate change treaty for the expiring Kyoto Protocol.
A panel of U.N. scientists has recommended that industrial countries cut carbon emissions by 25 percent to 40 percent by 2020 to avoid a catastrophic rise in sea levels, harsher storms and droughts and climate disruptions. Some poorer and island countries are pushing for reductions of as much as 45 percent.
After rejecting that idea, Stern pointed to progress on legislation before the U.S. Congress that would require lesser reductions. He said the Waxman-Markey bill is expected to move to the floor of the U.S. House this week for debate, which he said is "quite good news."
The bill calls for a 17 percent cut in U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 2020 from 2005 levels, and an 83 percent reduction by mid-century. Carbon dioxide, produced by burning coal and other fossil fuels, is the leading manmade greenhouse gas that scientists have linked to global warming.
"That's a very important piece of the overall picture for the United States," Stern said. "The proposal that is reflected in the Waxman-Markey bill is an enormously ambitious proposal for the United States."
Such measures may not be enough to bring agreement on a climate change accord, which the United Nations hopes will be agreed on at a conference in Copenhagen next December.
Stern said that "there are still significant differences between the parties" on emissions levels at the talks that were held just south of Mexico City.
"There's not final agreement on anything yet, but I think we've made some progress," he said. "I do think we'll have a successful agreement in Copenhagen."
But the final document from the Mexico talks indicated only that "many leaders' representatives expressed support for agreeing to a long-term goal by 2050," indicating there wasn't even complete agreement on the idea of emission caps by that late date.
Somewhat more progress was made on financing for emissions reduction, technology and adaptation to climate change.
Mexico's proposal for a "green fund" to which all but the very poorest countries would contribute — and then receive funding for clean energy and environmental projects — appeared to be gaining traction.
Stern voiced support for the proposal, adding that "there are a number of countries that sat around the table that also think it's an interesting idea."
Unlike the current, largely private carbon credit market in which polluting companies pay to offset their emissions, the new, $10 billion fund would be financed through government contributions and run by a multilateral agency, possibly the World Bank.
Mexico's government said Tuesday that it was open to including carbon credits in the framework of the proposed fund, to make more money available to poor countries to develop cleaner technologies and prepare for climate change phenomena like floods and droughts.
"Mexico's proposals for the `Green Fund' could be compatible with a link to the carbon credits market, which would allow a significant increase in the amount of funds available," said Adrian Fernandez, head of Mexico's National Ecology Institute.
Environmental activists said that while Mexico's proposal lacks compliance mechanisms to ensure that wealthy countries contribute, it is preferable to the current carbon credits market.
"If the market is what is regulating which activities should be funded, our forests and Antarctic would disappear," said Gustavo Ampugnani of Greenpeace International.
Stern agreed there will be a need for "some sort of mechanism for a more regular provision and a more dependable provision of funding to poor countries."
Norway has suggested a fund financed by proceeds from auctioning emission permits, but Stern said that proposal was "more amenable to some countries than others," without offering any specifics.