Obama buzz felt at global climate talks

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) - The president-elect won't be there, but an Obama buzz will crackle through the conference hall when negotiators gather Monday for a final push toward a sweeping new global warming treaty.

"America is back," says Sen. John Kerry, underscoring that Barack Obama's election signals a U.S. intent to regain a leadership role on climate change.

"After eight years of obstruction and delay and denial, the United States is going to rejoin the world community in tackling this global challenge," said the Massachusetts Democrat, in line to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Delegates from nearly 190 countries gather for two weeks in Poznan, Poland, meeting for fourth time in the past year. Previous talks have witnessed bickering, clashes and compromise in what the top U.N. climate official calls the most difficult and complex international negotiation in history.

They have set a deadline of December 2009 to complete an accord on reducing worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for changing the Earth's climate.

Delegates say Obama's election promises to energize a process that until now has been burdened by a U.S. reluctance to endorse any international climate regime.

"In Poznan there will be a buzz - we can call it the American buzz," said Jake Schmidt, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The U.S. is back in the conversation, and back with a leader that gets it."

At the same time, a global financial crisis has struck just when governments must commit to spending hundreds of billions of dollars to fight climate change.

A report by the U.N. climate change secretariat estimates that at least $200 billion will be needed annually to cut carbon emissions 25 per cent below 2000 levels by 2030. hundreds of billions more may be needed for poor countries to deal with such effects of global warming as rising seas, water scarcity and shifts in farming, it said.

Some 9,000 delegates, activists and researchers will attend the Poznan meeting, which ends with a two-day summit of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, 150 environmental ministers, and Kerry and other U.S. congressmen who are instructed to report back to Obama.

It comes as new data suggests carbon emissions are increasing rather than declining, adding vigor to scientists' warnings that higher average temperatures will lead to more extreme storms, droughts and floods. U.N. monitors said last this month that total emissions from more than 40 reporting countries grew by 2.3 percent between 2000 to 2006.

"The need for real progress has never been more urgent," U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said in a video message to delegates.

De Boer said Sunday that the global financial crisis already has delayed some green energy projects, and he fears the shortage of investment money could lead to cheap and dirty decisions on new power plants.

He said the crisis should instead be seen as an opportunity to reform the power infrastructure. He said 40 percent of the world's power generation must be changed in the next 10 to 15 years, and new plants will last up to 50 years.

The Poznan conference is the halfway mark in a two-year negotiation to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which obliged 37 industrial countries to slash carbon emissions below 1990 levels by an average 5 percent by 2012.

Washington refused to ratify the protocol. President George W. Bush argued it would hurt the U.S. economy while making no demands on emerging economic powers like China, which has surpassed the U.S. as the world's biggest polluter.

A breakthrough came at last December's talks when China and other developing countries agreed to share the burden of controlling emissions - though without accepting the same limits as the industrial countries, and only if they get help to switch to lower-carbon economies.

Conferences since then have explored ways of raising the huge sums required, of giving incentives to countries to curb deforestation, on setting new emissions targets for industrial countries and on transferring technologies to less developed countries and bringing them into the process.

Delegates now hope to agree on a timetable for next year to wrap up those issues and nail down the treaty language to be approved in December next year in Copenhagen, Denmark.

"Poznan really marks the moment in which serious negotiations can begin - to narrow down all of those ideas into what then needs to become an agreement in Copenhagen," De Boer told The Associated Press. "Finance is very much at the heart of the solution in Copenhagen."

Despite the high expectations of Obama, it will be months before his impact is felt on the negotiations. The U.S. delegation in Poznan will be the outgoing Bush team, led by Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, and is likely to take a low profile.

"Their brief may be: Don't do any harm, and don't let any obstacles develop that would inhibit the next administration's ability to act," said Mark Helmke, a Republican congressional staff member of the Foreign Relations Committee who has observed the last four climate conferences.

Obama, who enters office in January, would likely need a year to prepare domestic legislation enabling Washington to commit to a new climate treaty.

Nonetheless, delegates anticipate a new U.S. approach that will kick the talks into a higher gear next year.

"The United States is the key to make other countries move," said Denmark's climate and energy minister, Connie Hedegaard, who is to preside over the decisive Copenhagen meeting.

"Without the United States and China," she said, "there is no deal."

AP writers Vanessa Gera in Warsaw and Jan Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report