BANGKOK (AFP) — For all the talk of urgency in fighting climate change, negotiators are putting off the hard part in drafting the next global treaty until the US election, diplomats and environmentalists say.
All three major candidates seeking the keys to the White House in January support tougher action on climate change than President George W. Bush, who rejected the Kyoto Protocol as one of his first acts in office.
Five days of marathon negotiations in Bangkok ended late Friday with a work plan to draft a treaty, by the end of next year, on how to fight climate change once Kyoto's commitments to curb harmful gas emissions run out in 2012.
"We're all looking forward to moving ahead more swiftly in 2009 when finally there is a US administration that recognises the urgency of climate change," said David Mittler, a climate adviser at environmental group Greenpeace.
"The world community has to make it clear that they expect the US to join in a real, climate-saving agenda... to ensure a world that still has things like coral reefs and farmers in Africa who are not made refugees," he said.
Bush argues that Kyoto is unfair to the world's largest economy by making no demands of fast-growing polluters such as China and India.
The US delegation in Bangkok was led by Harlan Watson, who urged the developing world to "get real" about their demands for major cash handouts and to consider the faltering state of the global economy.
But quietly, staff members from the US Senate, controlled by the rival Democratic Party, were also in Bangkok -- meeting in the corridors to lay the groundwork for a future deal on climate change.
Yvo de Boer, head of the UN climate body that led the formal talks, said the question of how much rich nations should slash emissions in the next decade "is something which is perhaps more sensibly discussed with a new administration."
Republican presidential candidate John McCain was an early supporter in his party of fighting climate change, butting heads with Bush.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the two Democrats vying to be president, have both supported emissions cuts of 80 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels, far steeper than the global average of five percent by 2012 under Kyoto.
Obama has also said he would put former US vice president Al Gore in charge of climate policy.
Gore shared the Nobel peace prize last year for his campaigning on the environment. He has recently called for a "global Marshall plan" to combat climate change, which he blamed for poverty, disease, drought and other ills.
"I think people are feeling optimistic that the next administration is going to engage in a different way than Bush has," said Alden Meyer, strategy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US activist group.
But he added: "The question is how aggressive they're going to be."
The next president is likely to face pressure from industry groups, particularly as the US economy appears headed into recession.
He or she will have a long list of appointments to make and send to Congress for approval as the new president stamps his or her authority on the White House.
"The rest of the world shouldn't have to be kept waiting because of the US election cycle," said Angela Anderson of the Washington-based Pew Environment Group.
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