Climate deal 'achievable without US on board'

IRENA chief says emissions limits are not the only recourse to fight climate change and America may contribute with other incentives for clean, renewable energy.

Helene Pelosse, the interim director general of IRENA, says the US needs to reach domestic consensus on addressing climate change.
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A global agreement to fight climate change is achievable this year even if the US, the world's top carbon polluter, fails to deliver promised emissions limits, the head of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) says. Under the US President Barack Obama, America led global climate talks in December and promised sharp emissions reductions of 17 per cent by 2020, but hopes of it achieving that have faded with a recent change in the balance of power in Washington.

A number of experts have predicted that a loss of US momentum could doom international efforts to reach a climate treaty in June at talks in Mexico City. But Helene Pelosse, the interim director general of IRENA, based in Abu Dhabi, yesterday said the US could still achieve the reduction and play a key role in the talks without the "cap and trade" system on emissions that was opposed by a powerful bipartisan bloc in the Senate.

A cap and trade law, which was separately passed by the House of Representatives last year, would have placed limits on emissions and set up a market for industry to buy permits to pollute. "They are going to do something on energy - I don't think it's going to be perfect," Ms Pelosse said after a speech in Abu Dhabi. "Cap and trade is not going to be the only option. You can also have incentives in renewable energy, in smart grids and energy storage, and that might also happen in the US."

Approval of cap and trade legislation in the Senate was thrown into doubt last month when the Republicans gained an extra seat in the Senate, giving them the minimum of 41 votes they needed to block legislation. Proponents of the legislation say it would put a price on carbon, giving companies an incentive to invest in clean technology, but critics say it would raise energy prices on consumers in the middle of a recession.

Mr Obama last week suggested the Democrats might take cap and trade out of climate legislation, telling a town hall meeting in New Hampshire that "we may be able to separate these things out". Cap and trade was one of Mr Obama's top three priorities when he assumed office last year. Ms Pelosse, noting two historic examples when the US Senate was unable to ratify the international commitments of the executive, said the country had to reach a broad domestic consensus in order for an international treaty to succeed.

"We should be looking back in history," she said. "There is no way you can sign an international treaty if you don't have the domestic agreement on that. "That happened with Kyoto and that also happened with the Treaty of Versailles [after the First World War]. It's better if you're losing some months and it's delayed a bit, but at the end of the day you've got everybody on board." Ms Pelosse also said the case for rapid action to reduce emissions had not been undermined by revelations that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the official UN scientific body, printed two significant factual errors in a recent report.

The IPCC incorrectly stated that glaciers in the Himalayan mountains could melt by 2035, and also said that 55 per cent of the Netherlands lies below sea level. The correct figure is 26 per cent, the Dutch government said. The errors were revealed two months after hackers made public e-mails from leading climate scientists that appeared to show the researchers colluding to present climate data in a negative light.

Ms Pelosse said yesterday that neither event had a big effect on public perception. "We should differentiate that from the fact that climate change is a fact. We have science for that," she said.