France Says U.S. Must Catch Up On Emissions Cuts

French Environment Minister says U.S. lagging, Australia catching up and China is 'absolutely determined' to cut emissions to fight global warming.

PARIS (AP) -- The French host of climate talks among the world's biggest polluters said Tuesday that the United States had backpedaled on promises to slash carbon emissions but China appeared "absolutely determined" to make deep cuts.

French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo welcomed the U.S. administration's commitment to tackle global warming after years of reluctance under President George W. Bush, but suggested President Barack Obama has backpedaled on earlier suggestions of requiring deep cuts in U.S. carbon emissions.

"We want to tell them, 'Yes, you can,' you can do a lot more," Borloo told Europe-1 radio a report card on the Major Economies Forum, which brought together the 17 countries that produce about 80 percent of global carbon emissions ahead of a U.N. meeting in Copenhagen in December on a global climate pact to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

A major challenge is getting both the United States and China on board for deep cuts.

The United States never signed on to Kyoto, citing the costs to the economy and the lack of participation by developing countries such as China. Developing countries, meanwhile, have said rich countries are not being aggressive enough in cutting their own emissions even as they ask poor countries to make costly commitments.

The Obama administration had suggested a 14 percent to 15 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020 and legislation before Congress would reduce such emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

But Borloo said the U.S. government was proposing at the meeting to cut emissions by 5 percent or 6 percent below 1997 levels. "That is insufficient," he said. He did not say what the target date for those cuts was.

He also said he was disappointed in U.S. reluctance to discuss medium-term emissions cuts, focusing on 2050 targets instead.

U.S. envoy Todd Stern declined to comment until the talks ended.

Germany's environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said all participants were too afraid to make the first move toward deeper emissions cuts.

"Everyone ... thinks the one who moves first is lost," he told reporters. "This meeting has not generated any improvement," he said.

"We haven't even obtained small steps" in the Paris talks, he said. "We will have a lot of trouble finding an agreement among the G-20 in Rome in July, and without that, the developing countries and China and India won't budge."

Borloo said, however, that the Chinese appeared eager to carry out significant cuts in their carbon emissions.

"I have the sense that our Chinese friends are absolutely determined to fight against greenhouse gases," he said, without giving any specific emissions targets.

Europe was the star pupil in French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo's sizing-up of the Major Economies Forum, which groups together 17 countries that produce about 80 percent of global carbon emissions.

The EU has promised to cut emissions by 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2020.

"You should do at least as well as Europe," he said.

Borloo said Australia has "nearly agreed" to the EU level of emissions cuts.

Gabriel warned that the EU goals were "in danger when others don't move. How can we explain that to our industry?"

Clashing numbers are a key challenge at these and other global climate talks: Different governments are using different time frames -- some looking to 2012, to 2020 or 2050. And they are basing emissions cuts on different base years -- some comparing to 1990 levels, some to 1997 levels or 2005 levels.

Activists say countries should have immediate, deep emissions targets. But many governments prefer to keep targets long-term, which critics say allows them to pass the burden onto their successors.

Governments are juggling with numbers to reach emissions targets that their recession-hit industries can stomach. Just how far governments are willing to go is the main question at the talks in Paris, coming just six months before the U.N. meeting in Copenhagen.

The environment chiefs are also discussing how to raise $100 billion a year to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

Associated Press writer Tobias Schmidt contributed to this report.