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Envoys optimistic for climate treaty

WASHINGTON, Apr 29 – Top climate envoys said they were more optimistic about sealing a global warming deal this year after a US-led meeting of major economies, but they sparred on the level of their commitments.

US President Barack Obama, who champions aggressive action against global warming, invited negotiators from 17 other major economies including developing powers such as China and India to meet in Washington.

The talks came as the clock ticks to a December meeting in Copenhagen that is meant to approve a new global treaty to slow down the planet’s rising temperatures.

"I come out of this meeting a bit more optimistic," Todd Stern, the chief US negotiator on climate change, told reporters.

Stern acknowledged that much of the conversation was general in scope but said it was not a "head-butting exercise."

"Believe me, I’m not trying to oversell," Stern said. "I would not downplay or underestimate the difficulty of getting an agreement in Copenhagen."

His remarks were echoed by German Environmental Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who said: "I’m quite optimistic that we will succeed in December."

But he said that emerging countries still did not want to make binding commitments on how much they will cut carbon emissions blamed for global warming.

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"Today there was no movement in this respect. It still is an open question if the emerging countries are ready for binding agreements," Gabriel said.

Developing nations charge in turn that they cannot come up with firm targets until they know the position of the United States.

Obama, who personally greeted all the envoys, has sharply changed US direction on climate change and vowed action despite the global economic crisis, hoping to create new jobs in green technology.

Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush was the main holdout from the Kyoto Protocol, which he said was too costly and unfair as the landmark environmental treaty makes no requirements of rapidly growing developing nations.

French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, while hailing the Washington talks as "constructive," said that Obama’s reduction targets did not go far enough.

"It’s a situation where we’re so happy at the change in attitude (after Bush) and at the same time that should not lower ambitions," Borloo said.

The US has agreed to cut its emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, while Europe has pledged to cut its own emissions by at least 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2020, and 30 percent if other advanced economies follow suit.

The Copenhagen conference is meant to lay out global action after 2012, when Kyoto’s obligations expire.

More than 180 nations agreed at a major conference in December 2007 in Bali, Indonesia that the next treaty should involve the entire world.

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Marcelo Furtado, executive director of Greenpeace Brazil, said that wealthy nations have not yet made enough commitments for some developing states to feel comfortable to take strong action.

"Most countries are either still keeping their cards to themselves or in some cases they actually don’t have any cards to show — they’re just watching the game and making their position as negotiations go by," Furtado told reporters.

The US negotiator Stern said that while negotiators did not dwell on past US policy, "there’s a lot of sense of appreciation and relief, frankly, that they’re dealing with a very different kettle of fish."

The talks involved Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, the European Commission, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the United States, Denmark and the United Nations.

They will meet again in late May in Paris and at a location to be decided in June.

The format was set up by the Bush administration and originally met opposition from some developing nations and environmentalists who feared Washington was trying to bypass UN-led negotiations.

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