EU Warns Climate Talks Too Slow

The European Union warned Friday that diplomacy on climate change was moving too slowly after UN-led talks in Bangkok eked out an agreement on an agenda for further negotiations this year.

“Our overall sense is things are moving slow, too slow for Europe’s taste. And we cannot achieve what we need to achieve before the end of this year with this speed,” EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said.

“Too often too much time is spent on how to proceed,” she told reporters on a visit to Washington. “What we need is to come down to the content side of this and that is urgent.”

The four-day session in Bangkok, which was marked by feuds between wealthy and developing countries, eventually achieved its goal of setting an agenda leading up to an annual UN climate conference in South Africa in November.

But the Bangkok talks largely put aside big picture issues on how nations will cut their greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.

Hedegaard said it was critical to move soon on cutting emissions, pointing out that national pledges have not come close to the UN-led goal of containing global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).

“What people sometimes forget is that there is a time factor when we talk about the climate. It actually does matter whether we start acting globally sooner or later,” she said.

The European Union has championed international action on climate change, including through its “cap-and-trade” system that restricts carbon emissions but allows businesses to trade in credits.

Before Washington, Hedegaard visited California, which is launching the first cap-and-trade system in the United States. The effort by the largest US state marks a sharp contrast with skepticism over climate change in the US Congress.

Hedegaard said she agreed with Governor Jerry Brown to keep in touch so that the EU and California systems may eventually be linkable.

“California is not just a very huge American state, it’s also the seventh or eighth largest economy of the world. So of course it’s a rather strong signal if it gets done,” Hedegaard said.

A bill supported by President Barack Obama to set up a nationwide cap-and-trade system died last year in the Senate, with the rival Republican Party arguing that it would be too costly.

Hedegaard met in Washington with lawmakers from both parties as well as officials at the Environmental Protection Agency, which Obama has tasked with regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

Hedegaard said she was fully aware of the political realities in Washington but hoped the United States could move forward.

“It is very hard to understand that in this country it would not be possible to make a policy on, for instance, how to address energy efficiency, because the potential is just that big,” she said.

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