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Canada Confident of Progress at UN Climate Talks

by: Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent    27 November 2005

MONTREAL, Canada (Reuters) - Host Canada expressed hopes of easing a dispute between the United States and most of its allies on ways to combat global warming at U.N. climate talks starting on Monday.
Up to 10,000 delegates from 189 nations meeting in Montreal from November 28-December 9 will also look at ways to involve big developing nations like China and India in curbing emissions of heat-trapping gases blamed for heating the planet.
``Everybody understands the problem but there are big differences on the solutions,'' Canadian Environment Minister Stephane Dion said of global warming that is widely blamed on human activities and may trigger more storms, droughts and rising sea levels.
``Let's try to have some progress, a rapprochement, among countries. I'm confident we'll do it'' in Montreal, he said in opening an exhibition on Sunday ranging from solar-powered cars to windmills. He did not mention any countries by name.
The meeting will be the first of the annual U.N. climate talks since the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol on limiting emissions of gases, mainly from human use of fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars, entered into force in February.
Many Kyoto nations want Montreal to launch negotiations, likely to last years, on setting new curbs once Kyoto's goals run out in 2012. But the United States and Australia have rejected Kyoto as a straitjacket threatening economic growth.
``I can't see the United States joining international negotiations about what happens after 2012,'' said Paal Prestrud, head of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.
``It's hard to imagine a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol without the United States and Australia,'' he said.
Any deal excluding the United States and Australia could hand them a competitive advantage because of costs of complying with Kyoto, which seeks a shift from burning coal, oil and gas to cleaner, but even more costly, energy like wind or solar power.
Montreal will also be a test of how far developing nations are willing to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases beyond 2012 when wider use of energy -- like supplying electricity for homes or industry -- is key to ending poverty.
The Montreal meeting will be complicated by the likely defeat of Canada's Liberal government, of which Dion is a member, on Monday after 17 months in power in a vote of confidence. A loss would trigger an election campaign.
The Montreal conference is a parallel meeting of the U.N.'s 189-nation 1992 climate convention which oversees Kyoto, in which Washington and Canberra are full members, and of the 156-nation Kyoto Protocol, where they are mere observers.
Delegates say that the talks may end with a twin track allowing Kyoto backers to go ahead and plan long-term targets while all nations also discuss broader solutions.
Under Kyoto, about 40 industrialized countries including European Union nations, Russia and Japan, have to cut emissions of carbon dioxide by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.
``It's clear from the mounting evidence of climate change that much deeper cuts in emissions will be needed from 2012,'' environmental group Greenpeace said. It wants a 2008 deadline for negotiating a successor treaty for Kyoto.
On one front-line of climate change, about 2,000 people on the Cantaret Islands off Papua New Guinea have decided to move to nearby Bougainville island after a losing battle with rising sea levels that have washed away homes and poisoned fresh water.
And businesses and investors in a new European Union market for trading emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, also urgently want to know what the rules will be after 2012.
After pulling out of Kyoto in 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush has stressed investments in new energy technologies like hydrogen or ways to bury carbon dioxide below ground.