WASHINGTON — The top U.S. climate negotiator, Todd Stern, said Tuesday that he was "a bit more optimistic" that the world could solve the global warming crisis after meeting with high-level officials from the countries that produce the bulk of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
Stern, however, said no one should underestimate the difficulty of getting the world's developed and developing nations to agree on actions all can take to reduce emissions.
The meetings here on Monday and Tuesday were the first of three forums planned this spring to try to build agreement among the government leaders ahead of a December conference in Copenhagen, where the world's nations will try to hammer out a new treaty to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases.
The head of the German delegation, Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, said he brought some advice to the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress as they try to develop public support for boosting renewable energy and efficiency and slowing climate change. Sell it as a business opportunity, Gabriel said.
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"We say better to explain to your society that they will lose opportunities" if the country doesn't move away from fossil fuels, Gabriel said.
"What happens when the Chinese close their biggest cities to the old kind of cars, those that aren't electric? Then you have to ask yourself, do you want these cars only coming out of Korea and Japan?" Gabriel said, speaking to reporters after the meeting.
China has a "very ambitious" renewable energy program and "we shouldn't underestimate what technological leap-frogging China is capable of," he said.
Germany, a world leader in wind and solar energy, employs 280,000 of its people in renewable energy jobs — "and that's 160,000 more than four years ago," Gabriel said. He also said that although the price of electricity per kilowatt-hour would go up, the efficiency gains would ensure that people wouldn't pay higher bills.
From Europe's point of view, the Obama administration's short-term goals for emissions reduction are too weak. The U.S. aims for a 15 percent reduction from current levels by 2020. Gabriel said that compares to about 6 percent or 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, compared with the European Union's agreed reduction of 20 percent.
Stern said it's likely that developing countries will produce national action plans based on their own circumstances that become part of the treaty. Negotiators will have to work on making sure the commitments from all countries are firm enough to meet the goal of protecting the climate.
Joao Vale de Almeida, a European Commission official who represented the EU at the talks in Washington, said he was encouraged about the commitment of all the countries to solving the climate problem.
Asked about what China will do, he replied: "I expect China to look at their own interests. China will be as affected by climate change as we all are."
The informal meeting was not expected to produce any agreements. That will be left to the negotiations later this year. The participants, in addition to the U.S., Germany and the EU, were China, India, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea and the United Kingdom.
Together, these nations account for 75 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
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