In what is being seen as a subtle but potentially important shift in tone, the United States' chief international negotiator on climate policy has indicated that steep emissions cuts in excess of 50% are required, and that the U.S. will take part in the world's strategy to meet that challenge.
The statement by Harlan Watson, the senior climate negotiator for the U.S. Department of State, heartened some advocates who have long wanted the United States to stake a leadership role in the world on the issue, according to a report by Bloomberg News.
All details remain unclear. For instance, it's not entirely clear that statements signal a deepening of the commitment already expressed recently by President Bush, that he would convene a conference of the world's top polluters to set voluntary "aspirational" emissions targets. That falls short of what many European countries, and American advocates, want to see: sharp, mandatory cuts that go beyond the cuts mandated by the Kyoto Protocol, which the U.S. did not sign.
Al Gore, the former vice president and climate campaigner, for instance, has said developed countries need to cut emissions by 90% and that overall world emissions need to be cut in half across the world. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, who has proposed the most aggressive bill being considered in Congress -- calling for an 80% reduction -- has said Gore's target may well be the right one, given the unexpected speed at which certain melting glaciers and ice sheets and other indicators of climate change are occurring.
Top U.S. climate scientists have said that the world has less than 10 years to reverse its "business as usual" approach and institute steep reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. The speed with which apparent impacts wrought by the changing climate are emerging makes even that time frame seem, at times, too long.
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