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U.S., Under Fire, Eases Its Stance in Climate Talks (ANDREW C. REVKIN, 12/10/05, NY Times)

The United States dropped its opposition early Saturday morning to nonbinding talks on addressing global warming after a few words were adjusted in the text of statements that, 24 hours earlier, prompted a top American official to walk out on negotiations. […]

The United States and China, the world’s current and projected leaders in greenhouse gas emissions, still refused to agree to mandatory steps to curtail the emissions as the talks drew toward a close early Saturday. […]

The walkout, by Harlan L. Watson, the chief American negotiator here, came Friday, shortly after midnight, on what was to have been the last day of the talks, during which the administration has been repeatedly assailed by the leaders of other wealthy industrialized nations for refusing to negotiate to advance the goals of that treaty, and in which former President Bill Clinton chided both sides for lack of flexibility.

At a closed session of about 50 delegates, Dr. Watson objected to the proposed title of a statement calling for long-term international cooperation to carry out the 1992 climate treaty, participants said. He then got up from the table and departed. […]

In the end, though, some adjustments of wording – including a shift from “mechanisms” to the softer word “opportunities” in one statement – ended the dispute.

In Washington, Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman, said the administration was determined to achieve greenhouse-gas reductions not through binding limits but through long-term work to develop cleaner technologies.

“If you want to talk about global consciousness,” he said, “I’d say there’s one country that is focused on action, that is focused on dialogue, that is focused on cooperation, and that is focused on helping the developing world, and that’s the United States.”

There were still a few more details involving Russia that were being worked on, but delegates and participants among the 9,000 people in the halls were confident the overall deal would hold.

The amount of progress is still achingly slow, many environmentalist say. The world’s major sources of greenhouse emissions – the United States, big developing countries like China and India, and a bloc led by Europe and Japan – remain divided over how to proceed under both the 1992 treaty and the Kyoto Protocol, an addendum that took effect this year.

The original treaty – since ratified by 189 nations, including the United States – has no binding restrictions. The Kyoto pact does impose mandatory limits on industrialized nations, but they do not apply to developing nations, including China and India. The United States and Australia have rejected that pact.

On Friday, countries bound by the Kyoto Protocol were close to agreeing on a plan to negotiate a new set of targets and timetables for cutting emissions after its terms expire.

But under pressure from some countries already having trouble meeting Kyoto targets, the language included no specific year for ending talks on next steps, instead indicating that parties would “aim to complete” work “as soon as possible.”

Let them talk all they want so long as we don’t surrender any national sovereignty.

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