New nations should join climate front-line

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LONDON, Oct 2 (Reuters) The front-line of industrial nations fighting climate change needs shaking up to reflect that outsiders such as South Korea are now richer than insiders like Russia, the U.N. climate chief said.

''It would make sense to me to revisit the current list,'' Yvo de Boer, the head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, told a Reuters Environment Summit yesterday.

The UN's Kyoto Protocol obliges 36 industrialised countries, including Russia, the European Union, Canada and Japan, to cut their overall emissions of greenhouse gases to 5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.

Other countries, ranging from relatively rich South Korea to the poorest of African states, have no emissions caps as part of policies meant to avert more heatwaves, droughts, floods and rising seas.

De Boer said he was encouraged by meetings in the United States last week that he said had shown broad global support for a new pact to fight climate change beyond 2012. ''I'm much more heartened than I was a week ago,'' he said.

But he said the Protocol, signed in 1997 but only implemented in 2005, needed an overhaul.

''The per capita GDP (national income) of Korea is much higher than that of Russia,'' he said.

''I can understand that they (Russia) feel some discomfort in thinking about the Kyoto approach,'' he said. Russian officials had told de Boer that they were worried that any new caps under a new treaty from 2013 would cramp Russia's economic growth.

Alternatives for Russia could be less stringent targets for greater efficiency in using energy or targets for reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of GDP.

RUSSIAN OVERSHOOT Asked if that meant Russia would inevitably be unable to meet any future deep cuts, de Boer said: ''I don't know about inevitably.'' ''I know there is a great interest on the part of Russia to improve energy efficiency, switch to different fuels and improve standards in a number of areas,'' he said.

He also said that new targets for other Kyoto countries, which now range from a 21 per cent cut by Germany to a 27 per cent rise for Portugal by 2012, should also be overhauled. Russia is now easily on target to meet its goal.

''At the moment there are countries that have very severe reduction targets such as Denmark and Germany but there are also countries that have emissions growth targets like Portugal and Spain,'' he said. Growth targets aimed at enabling poorer countries to grow economically.

He said most developing countries were not ready to cap their emissions at all under a new climate deal from 2013, which was the subject of UN and US-hosted meetings in New York and Washington last week.

''The sense that I took from the New York and Washington (meetings) is that developing countries are not ready to commit to nationwide caps, be they absolute or relative targets.'' Last week's US meetings were meant to provide impetus for a major climate change meeting in Bali, Indonesia, in December.

''It really generated a very broad commitment to advance on the issue now,'' he said of a UN summit. ''They all called for a breakthrough in Bali.'' De Boer was less positive about last week's Washington meeting, called by President George W Bush, who reiterated a US reluctance to engage in firm emissions targets, preferring to place faith in technological breakthroughs.

''He seems to be on a different track than many other countries,'' de Boer said. The United States and Australia have not ratified the protocol.

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