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Home News Europe fears Obama going cold on climate battle

Europe fears Obama going cold on climate battle

Published on 24/09/2009

Brussels — European leaders who once saw Barack Obama’s election as a new dawn in the battle against global warming are becoming concerned, three months ahead of a key UN climate summit in Copenhagen.

One sign of this is the revival of the idea for a "carbon tax" to protect Europe’s industry and environment, amid fears that Europe’s commitments on tackling climate change will not be matched in the United States and elsewhere.

"I confess that I am very worried by the prospects for Copenhagen (in December). The negotiations are dangerously close to deadlock at the moment," EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso told a think-tank in New York on Monday.

"This may not be a simple negotiating stand-off that we can fix next year. It risks being an acrimonious collapse, delaying action against climate change perhaps for years. And the world right now cannot afford such a disastrous outcome," he warned.

While Barroso in his speech did not once mention the United States, Washington gained a poor environmental reputation under former president George W. Bush, failing to ratify the Kyoto agreement which the talks in Copenhagen are aimed at replacing.

World leaders will converge on New York and Pittsburgh this week for pivotal talks on the efforts to remake global climate rules, with success far from assured.

For many observers Obama, and the whole of the US political class, are too consumed with reforming their national health system to concentrate on climate change.

"The US are less willing, the leadership (of the Obama administration) is not that clear in the current negotiations, they show a lack of ambition," a source close to the Swedish EU presidency said.

"The US are crucial on the talks in order to achieve a global deal. If they do not make ambitious commitments to reduce CO2 emissions, it will be very difficult to strike a deal in Copenhagen," he added.

The agenda for the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Thursday and Friday "shows that there are other topics that are very important at the moment," one European official said, in reference to the focus on the global financial and economic woes.

"The extent to which climate change will be dealt with during the meeting might not be as big as we had expected originally," the official added.

Now the Europeans are looking a little further ahead to talks beginning in Bangkok on September 28, within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

"There really must be progress in Bangkok" if there is to be a useful global deal in Copenhagen on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, said a negotiator close to the EU presidency.

"It’s time for a wake-up call to world leaders on climate," Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt warned last week.

"We need also clearer signals from the United States on mitigation efforts," he added, stressing that the sum of all the initiatives promised so far falls short of the overall target of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius.

Signs elsewhere are more encouraging for the EU, which has pledged 20 percent cuts in emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels and wants Copenhagen to agree 30 percent cuts.

New Japanese PM Yukio Hatoyama has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 and to help poor countries combat climate change.

The US has so far promised to cut emissions by just seven percent. Washington also wants to make such objectives as long-term as possible, reluctant to hit industry so soon after the economic crisis.

Hence the growing calls from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the United Nations to support a carbon tax on imports from countries who fail to back the international efforts to fight global warming.

"It would be unacceptable for the efforts of the most ambitious countries to be undermined by the carbon emissions released by (a) lack of or insufficient action by other countries," the two leaders argued in a joint letter last week.

However the subject remains "very controversial" according to the EU presidency source, with the more liberal European governments opposed.