By Noah Barkin and Markus Wacket
BERLIN (Reuters) – A climate meeting in Washington later this month will show whether the United States is really serious about curbing greenhouse gas emissions after years of playing down the problem, Germany’s environment minister said.
In an interview with Reuters, Sigmar Gabriel welcomed President George W. Bush’s vow at a G8 summit in June to work with the United Nations to fight global warming, but said it was now time for Washington to take firmer steps.
“The United States has a chance with this meeting to bring itself back into the international talks on climate change, talks from which it has long been absent,” Gabriel said.
“Now it will become clear whether the United States is really interested in binding agreements on reducing CO2 emissions. If they are, then this (meeting) can make a positive contribution.”
The United States has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which binds 36 industrial nations to cutting greenhouse gases.
Bush, who says Kyoto would damage the U.S. economy and wrongly omits 2012 goals for developing nations, has instead invested more heavily than other nations in technologies such as hydrogen or less polluting coal.
The first phase of Kyoto ends in 2012 and its members hope to launch talks on a wider and more ambitious follow-up agreement at a December U.N. climate meeting in Bali, Indonesia.
Ahead of that conference, Bush has called a meeting of major emitting countries in Washington for September 27-28 to work out future cuts. It remains unclear how that meeting will play into the broader U.N. efforts.
Gabriel, a Social Democrat (SPD) who some see as a future chancellor candidate, welcomed conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent proposal to allot equal emissions rights to individuals as a means of reducing harmful polluting gases.
But he said Merkel’s plan, which foresees developing countries increasing their emissions per capita while industrialized nations cut theirs, would require more ambitious policies from developed countries to succeed.
“If we want to ensure that the atmosphere is not over-burdened then the industrialized countries need to move faster in cutting emissions,” Gabriel said. “Above all it means that Germany and Europe have to sharpen their targets, that we need to be even more ambitious.”
Berlin agreed last month to a new package of energy saving measures that target public and private buildings, transport and households. Gabriel has called the package a “quantum leap” which would help reduce CO2 emissions by 36 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.
He predicted that Merkel’s “per capita” proposal, made during her trip to China and Japan last week, would play an important role at the Bali conference.
“I am hoping for a clear mandate for climate negotiations (in Bali). Until now what we’ve had is a clear rejection of that,” Gabriel said.
(Additional reporting by Erik Kirschbaum and Carsten Lietz)