US hesitant about goals in reducing emissions


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Washington : The US has emphasized the importance of the latest international report on global warming, but said it would not adopt corrective actions that would seriously damage the economy.

A team of US government climate experts Friday were reacting to the third phase report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released earlier in the day in Bangkok.

The cost estimates to prevent global warming ranged "as high as 3 percent (of gross domestic product) to achieve certain scenarios. Well that would, of course, cause a global recession," Jim Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told reporters. "No leader in the world … is going to be pursuing a strategy that would drive their economies into a deep recession."

In the report, hundreds of international scientists agreed that emissions must start declining by the year 2015 to prevent the world's temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrialized temperatures – a threshold expected to pose serious risks to human beings.

The report estimated that costs of avoiding a climatic catastrophe could start at less than 0.1 percent of world GDP per annum, and increase according to the emission goals set by governments or the international community.

The US produces at least 25 percent of greenhouse carbon emissions blamed for global warming, but has refused to join the Kyoto protocol that sets goals to lower the amount.

Harlan Watson, the senior US climate negotiator, repeated past statements by US President George W. Bush that until emissions are brought under control in developing countries like China and India – which were exempted from the targets – nothing will change.

"Some two-thirds to three-fourths of (the) growth is going to come from developing countries," primarily due to the generation of electricity from coal, he said.

The IPCC report suggested that one way to mitigate climate change is switching from coal to gas for electricity, but US officials made clear they expect coal to remain king.

"China will use its coal to develop, the US will use its coal as part of our overall energy profile," Connaughton said.

The officials said that the US is on a strong voluntary course to cut carbon emissions, including a huge undertaking to test carbon sequestration at coal fired plants starting with 20 pilot projects as early as next year. But it doesn't expect to see results for at least another decade.

Reporters repeatedly asked whether the US would support any of the target emission levels suggested in the IPCC report, similar to the EU's aim for one of the lower levels.

The US officials said such targets were meaningless, since reductions in one country could be offset by increases in other countries, like China or India. Instead, they referred to Bush's targets set in January for reductions, including a push for more use of renewable, less polluting fuels like ethanol.

"In America, culturally, our people are just much more responsive" to specific amounts, Connaughton said. Americans say: "Tell me how much I need to achieve in a particular sector by when," Connaughton said.