The US, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, staunchly defended its record on battling global warming on Wednesday, as the UN lamented a "frightening lack" of international leadership on climate change. Australia's prime minister said yesterday that he will seek support at the coming APEC summit for an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.
The US and Australia are the only major industrialized countries to reject the Kyoto Protocol. US President George W. Bush says it would harm the US economy, and it should have required cutbacks in poorer nations as well. US officials also say the country is doing better at voluntarily restraining the growth of such gases than are some countries committed to reductions under the Kyoto Protocol.
"The United States is committed to addressing the serious global challenge of climate change," said Paula Dobriansky, a US undersecretary of state and head of the US delegation to the UN climate conference in Nairobi.
The two-week meeting, entering its final three days, has been working on technical issues involving the Kyoto Protocol, which obliges 35 industrial nations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the conference earlier on Wednesday that those who would deny global warming or delay taking action against it are "out of step" and "out of time."
"Let no one say we cannot afford to act," Annan declared.
The Bush administration is among those who say reducing global-warming gases would be a setback for economies.
"It is increasingly clear it will cost far less to cut emissions now than to deal with the consequences later," Annan said.
Asked about Annan's charges of poor international leadership on climate, Dobriansky replied: "We think the United States has been leading with its groundbreaking initiatives" that take into account the economy and sustainable development.
Closed-door talks here in Nairobi are focusing on how to set emissions quotas for the post-2012 period -- a regime many hope will include the US.
At best, however, the conference may simply set a timetable for continuing talks into next year. Many here think real negotiations must await the end of the Bush administration.
"The United States will return to the negotiating table with a serious proposal when a new president takes office in 2009," said veteran conference observer Philip Clapp.
Clapp, president of the US group National Environmental Trust, noted that Democratic and Republican contenders in the 2008 presidential election favor capping US emissions.
Australia recently announced a partial change of stance on the Kyoto Protocol. Australian Prime Minister John Howard has repeatedly said that the deal would damage Australia's economy by giving a competitive advantage to China and India, which are not bound by the 2012 target.
But in a recent turnabout, Howard said he would consider a system of global carbon trading -- a key part of the Kyoto agreement -- if it did not damage Australian industries.
Carbon trading works by setting caps on countries' emissions, then allowing them to sell credits if they do not use their full entitlements.
Howard said he would seek support for a Kyoto alternative in meetings with George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao (