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U.S. opposes tying disasters to warming

Reflecting the Bush administration stand on climate change, the U.S. delegation to a global conference on disasters wants to purge a U.N. plan of its references to climate change as a potential cause of future natural disasters.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The U.S. delegation to a global conference on disasters wants to purge a U.N. action plan of its references to climate change as a potential cause of future natural calamities.

The U.S. stand reflects the opposition of the Bush administration to treating global warming as a priority problem.

“It’s well known that there’s controversy” about the consequences of climate change, deputy U.S. delegation head Mark Lagon told reporters Wednesday at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction. “It’s our desire that this controversy not distract this conference.”

The chief U.N. official here had a different view. “I hope there will be a global recognition of climate change causing more natural disasters,” said Jan Egeland, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

More extreme weather expected
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N.-organized network of scientists, said in its latest major assessment of climate science that the planet is warming and that this is expected to cause more extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and droughts, as the century wears on.

A broad scientific consensus attributes much of the warming to the accumulation of “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide from fossil fuel-burning. The Kyoto Protocol, which takes effect Feb. 16, mandates cutbacks in such emissions, but the United States, the biggest emitter, has rejected that international pact.

In its preamble, the “framework for action” drafted for adoption at the Kobe conference on Saturday says climate change is one factor pointing toward “a future where disasters could increasingly threaten the world’s economy, and its population.” Other passages call for strengthening research into global warming and for clear identification of “climate-related disaster risks.”

The U.S. delegation, supported by Australia and Canada, has called for all references to climate change to be deleted from the main document. The move is opposed by the 25-nation European Union — a strong supporter of the Kyoto Protocol — and by poorer nations potentially imperiled by the intensified storms, rising ocean waters and other effects of climate change.

The Bush administration has held fast to its rejection of mandatory curbs on greenhouse gases that are blamed for global warming, although Environmental Protection Agency administrator Mike Leavitt says that climate change is not an issue the White House dismisses. In December 2003, the administration said it was planning a five-year program to research climate change.

Controversy over cause
Egeland, the U.N. emergency coordinator overseeing the relief effort for the Indian Ocean tsunami, said the world has seen “a dramatic increase in hurricanes, storm surges and climate-caused natural disasters.”

In an Associated Press interview, he noted that he hasn’t been involved in the floor debate over document language. But, he said, “there is climate change. That is not really controversial. What is controversial is what causes climate change” — a reference to dissenters who contend the role of manmade emissions of greenhouse gases via fossil fuels may be overstated, and that the warming seen so far might be part of a natural cycle.

John Horekens, the U.N. conference coordinator, said he saw room for compromise on the language: Inclusion of a brief reference to climate change in the action plan, and additional references in a less significant annex.