The United States and Saudi Arabia are the world's worst "climate sinners," environmental groups said Friday, citing their high and mounting greenhouse gas emissions and inadequate government policies to combat global warming.
Australia was ranked third, but with a caveat: If its decision to sign the Kyoto Protocol is followed up with action, it would quickly fall down the ladder.
"The international community is still failing to comply with their responsibilities regarding climate protection," said Matthias Duwe of the Climate Action Network-Europe, which released the data Friday at the U.N. conference in Bali.
"They have not set themselves firmly on the path of limiting global warming."
Delegates from nearly 190 nations are attending the Dec. 3-14 gathering, charged with launching negotiations that will eventually lead to an international accord to succeed the Kyoto pact, which expires in 2012.
The 175-nation accord requires 36 industrial nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a key source of global warming, by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Without action, scientists warn of catastrophic droughts and floods, collapsing ice sheets and vanishing coastlines.
Environmentalists on Friday released their annual index ranking 56 industrialized and emerging countries, which together account for more than 90 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. The calculations, performed by the group Germanwatch, took into account pollution levels and trends, as well as overall climate policy.
Surprisingly China — which some experts believe has already surpassed the United States as the world's top emitter of climate-changing gases — was recognized for improvements made over the last two years, most notably to enhance energy efficiency and promote renewable energy.
It went from being the 14th worst offender to the 17th one year ago.
"China's relatively positive political assessment gives hope that emission growth will slow down in the future," said Christoph Bals, executive policy director of Germanwatch.
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, was the biggest "climate sinner" for the second year in a row, because its emissions are growing and it has no firm policies to address that, the group said. It has a long history of playing an obstructionist role at climate conferences.
The United States, the only major industrialized country not to have signed Kyoto, followed directly behind.
Washington opposes mandatory cuts in emissions and argues that technology, private investment and economic growth will save the planet from global warming. It has struggled to defend its position at the Bali meeting.
Though Australia ranked third on the list of offenders Friday, it could drop to 20th if Prime Minister Kevin Rudd follows through with promises to reduce emissions.
Rudd's newly elected government won cheers at the Bali gathering after it did an about-face earlier this week and agreed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, but "Australia will have to live up to their talk," said Duwe.
Sweden was doing the best job, but even it could improve, the environmentalists said. It was followed by Germany, Iceland and Mexico.