NAIROBI, Kenya – As delegates from more than 100 nations gathered for talks on the world's changing climate, many looked for signs the United States might ease its stand against mandatory reductions on global-warming emissions.
On the first day of the conference, they got their answer — it won't happen any time soon.
"I certainly got no indication (from the Bush administration) that there's any change in our position, nor is there likely to be during this presidency," U.S. negotiator Harlan Watson said.
The two-day conference opened Monday on the eve of a U.S. election that could hand congressional power to Democrats who favor the caps. But any new bills would still face a veto by President Bush, who says the requirements would hamstring U.S. economic growth.
Scientists attribute the past century's 1-degree rise in average global temperatures in part to the accumulation of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere — byproducts of power plants, automobiles and other fossil fuel-burning sources.
Watson said the U.S. is doing better at voluntarily restraining the growth of such gases than are some countries committed to reductions under the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
"With few exceptions you're seeing those emissions rise again," Watson said of countries bound by Kyoto.
Manik Roy, who monitors Congress for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a Washington research group, said the world "shouldn't just give up on the United States until 2008," when Bush's term is over.
"There is a huge amount of change going on in Congress at this time" on climate issues, he said.
The Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 annex to the U.N. climate treaty, requires 35 industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by an average 5 percent from 1990 levels by 2012.
At the Nairobi conference, the 165 nations that have ratified Kyoto are talking about what regime of quotas and timetables should succeed that agreement.
Largely because of the shutdown of many Eastern European industries in the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, emissions of all industrialized countries declined by 3.3 percent between 1990 and 2004, while U.S. emissions grew by almost 16 percent.
Among the Kyoto-obligated countries, Germany's emissions dropped 17 percent between 1990 and 2004, Britain's by 14 percent and France's by almost 1 percent.
Japan, Spain and other Kyoto signatories have registered emissions increases since 1990, but U.N. officials say they can meet their Kyoto targets by 2012 via taxes on carbon-based fuels, energy-efficiency regulations and other steps.
Meanwhile, a British government study released last week predicts the damage from unabated climate change will eventually cost between 5 percent and 20 percent of global gross domestic product each year.
"The urgency of the situation is indeed dire," said Steve Sawyer, the policy director for Greenpeace International. "At the end of the day, future generations will not forgive us."