COPENHAGEN -- The top U.S. climate negotiator today questioned the viability of two new global warming treaty proposals floated in recent hours as a way to end a stalemate here over the next steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
State Department special climate envoy Todd Stern found fault with a six-page draft offered today by a special U.N.-led working group that had been tasked with hashing out details on a new long-term agreement.
That six-page proposal leaves wide open many of the critical decisions on emission reductions and instead floats a range of targets. For example, it called for 2020 emission cuts from all wealthy nations on the order of between 25 and 40 percent below 1990 levels, with a target of keeping global temperatures from rising no more than 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius (2.7 or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from preindustrial levels.
While Stern said the document -- written by Michael Zammit Cutajar of Malta, the chairman of the Long Term Cooperative Action Group -- included several "constructive steps," the United States cannot agree to it because it gives a pass to major developing countries like China and India.
"This is a basic element of a deal for the United States, so we don't think that particular section of the text is an acceptable starting point," Stern said.
U.S. emissions are responsible for much of the historical role in global warming, Stern conceded. "We don't make any bones about that," he said. "We completely agree with that. We completely recognize our responsibility to take action now. That's what President Obama has been about all year."
But he said no new international agreement can successfully tackle global warming -- or, for that matter, win acceptance in the Senate -- if it does not also force China, India and other emerging powerhouses to take on their own significant actions, given that 97 percent of growth in greenhouse gases between now and 2030 will come from there.
"You can't even have that discussion if the major developing countries aren't taking a real role," Stern said. "This structure is kind of a structure that reflects old think, and we can't get the problem solved that way. We don't want to start a negotiation on that basis. This is very much driven by the environmental imperative."
Stern's remarks about "old think" reflect the Kyoto Protocol, which gave a break to developing countries that was roundly criticized in the Senate and pushed the United States out of the negotiations for more than a decade.
Cutajar's proposal is one of at least seven ideas circulating in Copenhagen as the climate talks enter the midway point, with environmental ministers expected to arrive this weekend for higher-level negotiations. More than 110 presidents, prime ministers and other heads of state also will come to the Denmark capital next week, including President Obama, with a goal of reaching a final agreement Dec. 18.
Another proposal floated today by 43 small island states, known as the Alliance of Small Island States, proposes a legally binding treaty with mandatory emission cuts for both developed and major developing countries.
It also includes a temperature target of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), with a scientific review period by 2016 to ratchet up the levels if necessary.
Here, Stern said he agreed with the concerns of the island countries, including the scientific look back. "I think that nobody has more legitimate concerns than they do," he said. But he said the temperature target -- which is largely in line with the arguments of many environmental protesters in Copenhagen -- was not politically realistic.
"I think 1.5 [degrees] is not in the realm of what we can get done with right now," Stern said. "It's something we should keep our eye on."
Coming into Copenhagen, the Obama administration had advocated for a new international model to replace Kyoto under which countries would agree to national "schedules" for mitigating emissions. It also wanted to see legally binding commitments from China, India and other fast-emerging economies.
So far, the United States has not produced its own treaty proposal, though Stern acknowledged he has been in talks with officials from China, Grenada and Barbados about different ideas.
Asked if a deal may emerge after bilateral talks with the Chinese, Stern replied, "There's no China-U.S. draft per se. We've discussed all the major issues. We've made progress on some."
The U.S. envoy also hinted that a successful outcome was within sight in Copenhagen. "I absolutely think there's a deal to be done here," he said. "I don't think there's a deal in the bag. That's a totally different matter."
Click here to read the Cutajar proposal.
Click here to read the AOSIS proposal.