US freezes hopes for global warming agreement

The UK government's hopes of reaching international agreement on global warming have been dealt a serious blow after a US spokesman said he was not convinced that action needs to be taken immediately.

Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Harlon Watson, US’ Chief Climate Negotiator said: “We are still not convinced of the need to move forward quite so quickly.”

He said that an emissions reductions agreement would harm the US economy, and went on to cast doubt over the science behind global warming and climate change itself. “There is general agreement that there is a lot known, but there is also a lot to be known,” he said.

Mr Watson was speaking ahead of this week’s Bonn climate change conference. Many had hoped that the talks would provide a good forum for discussion about the next stage of the Kyoto agreement in 2012. However, Mr Watson made it clear that he was not convinced there will be a Kyoto effort beyond 2012 anyway.

His remarks will come as a blow to Tony Blair who has said he wants climate change to be a priority topic for discussion during his presidency of the G8 and that a blueprint for action should be established at the summit at Gleneagles in July.

The comments also caused outrage from environmental groups. Friends of the Earth International’s Climate Campaigner Catherine Pearce said:

“We have unanimous, international agreement from the world’s leading scientists that climate change is happening, that we are responsible, and that urgent action is required. Thousands are already suffering the devastating effects, and thousands more threatened. The rest of the international community is committed to action, yet the world’s largest polluter still denies climate change.”

“The G8 meeting provides an unprecedented opportunity for the richest nations to address the biggest threat facing our planet, but this opportunity will be missed due to the disgraceful, outdated and downright dangerous behaviour of the US.”

The talks in Bonn have not produced entirely bad news, however. Environmentalists praised South Africa, China, Argentina and Mexico for outlining policies to fight climate change. Despite this, rich nations were criticised for not sticking to commitments to cut emissions and provide aid and technology for poorer countries.

The US pulled out of the Kyoto agreement in 2001.

By David Hopkins

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