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Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
US 'unlikely to meet climate targets'
melting arctic ice
Arctic warming is gathering pace
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

The US is "very unlikely" to meet its international commitment to reduce greenhouse gases, according to the country's former assistant secretary of state.

She is Eileen Claussen, whose career included stints at the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the State Department, where she was responsible for developing US policy on climate change.

Ms Claussen, who is now president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says governments must give a strong signal to prompt business to start reducing emissions.

But she says western governments are failing to provide the leadership the world needs.

Ms Claussen, who is visiting London, was speaking to BBC News Online.

Opinion divided

She said: "The American public and industry say there's enough scientific evidence on climate change to start acting. But we have a small and vocal group of sceptics.

"The Pew Center is right at the mid-point of the spectrum on climate. We believe the science, and we're calling for a second industrial revolution to cope with it.

"But it's not going to happen tomorrow. At the Hague conference in the Netherlands in November, Europe and Japan will be pressing for a deal that includes everything.

"It's going to be a very complicated meeting, and I'm not sure you can do a deal on everything. It would be better to get right what you can and defer the rest."

The Hague meeting is a conference of the signatories to the UN climate change convention, and is designed to agree the rules for implementing the Kyoto Protocol on limiting climate change.

Unworkable protocol

Under the protocol, which it has not yet ratified, the US is committed to cut its 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 7% by some time between 2008 and 2012.

Ms Claussen said: "There will have to be enough progress at the Hague to keep the process alive in countries like the US, where it is barely alive.

capitol in snow
Extreme weather hits the US
"There's an astonishing number of people in the US, and not only in industry, who are convinced that the Kyoto Protocol will never work, and that the US will never ratify it."

She said she thought the protocol had been "invented backwards", because its drafters had set the emission reduction targets countries were expected to reach before settling the mechanisms for reaching them.

She said: "My hunch is that many countries won't reach their targets. It's very unlikely that the US will.

Weak governments

"The Kyoto targets are in any case extremely modest. We're going to have to make major technological shifts and move away from fossil fuels if we are to do what we have to beyond Kyoto.

"We shan't be able to do it at all without a strong signal. That means strong leadership from governments, which is not forthcoming in the West these days.

"The French caved in immediately over fuel prices, and last week the UK Government ducked the opportunity in the fuel crisis to make the environmental argument.

"I sometimes think the strong signal we need will come from the climate itself."

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See also:

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