NEW YORK - The U.N. climate chief on Monday welcomed statements by Bush administration officials that the United States would accept a binding international commitment to reduce global-warming gases. But he said their insistence that China and other developing nations do the same "is not realistic."
"If it's a quid pro quo, then it's a nonstarter," said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the Bonn-based U.N. climate secretariat.
The United States is the only major industrial nation to reject the U.N. climate treaty's Kyoto Protocol, which requires 37 nations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by an average 5 percent by 2012.
Instead, the Bush administration has called for voluntary reductions by U.S. industry and generally has discussed only national-level commitments, via legislation on vehicle fuel efficiency, for example, rather than accept the idea of international treaty obligations.
On Monday, the White House's deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, meeting with reporters in Paris, indicated Washington would take on such a treaty obligation — but with a major condition.
"The U.S. is prepared to enter into binding international obligations to reduce greenhouse gases as part of a global agreement in which all major economies similarly undertake binding international obligations," said Daniel Price, according to a BBC report.
"Major economies" refers to the 17 largest emitters of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, led by the United States and China.
China, India, Brazil and other poorer nations, some with fast-growing economies, were exempted from Kyoto's obligations in order to allow them to develop and lift more of their people out of poverty. They resist taking on such commitments after 2012, pointing to richer nations' historical responsibility for the atmosphere's carbon dioxide overload, and the fact that their per-capita emissions are mere fractions of U.S. per-capita figures.
But China is now surpassing the U.S. in total carbon dioxide output, and Price, accompanied by James Connaugton, the chief White House environmental adviser, said such big emitters must commit to cutbacks with the U.S.
"An effective framework requires the participation of all major economies, developed and developing alike," he was quoted as saying.
De Boer told The Associated Press that U.S. talk of internationally binding targets for emissions reductions was "great." But he saw problems in what Price said otherwise.
"If the intent is to achieve a comparable effort on the part of developing countries, then that is not realistic and not in line with what was agreed in Bali," de Boer said.
At December's annual U.N. climate conference in Bali, Indonesia, the world's nations agreed on a two-year negotiating timetable for reaching an agreement to succeed Kyoto after 2012, and the big developing nations did not say they would accept international obligations to cut emissions.
Other nations expect the new U.S. administration taking office next January — whether Democratic or Republican — to be more accepting of a Kyoto-like agreement.
The Bush administration, meanwhile, has been conducting a series of meetings with the 16 other "major economies" to discuss possible national plans for reducing emissions. It hopes those discussions will produce a "leaders' declaration" — not an internationally binding agreement — before this July's annual G-8 summit in Japan.