Is the US dragging its feet on a climate deal?
Some countries and advocacy groups are saying that the United States is seeking to delay the start of a legally binding climate change deal until after 2020, a charge that the US climate envoy denies.
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The United States has set a voluntary target of cutting its emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, equivalent to three percent below 1990 levels. The EU goal is a 20 percent reduction by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.Skip to next paragraph
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The United States has said it will only make its emissions cuts binding under an international agreement if China and other developing countries that are big polluters back their commitments with equal legal force.
U.S. delegate heckled
Only modest steps towards a broader deal on cutting greenhouse gases remain the most likely outcome of the Durban talks, which officially end on Friday.
Change at the current pace will not be enough to save the Maldives -- a low-lying island chain popular with Western tourists that risks disappearing under rising sea levels caused by global warming.
"One of the reasons why the U.S. is reluctant to talk about anything before 2020 is because it will affect its presidential elections," the Maldives' Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam told Reuters in an interview.
"They are being foolish but you can't just blame the government. It's also down to its citizens. The government is just saying 'our people do not want this'."
Public concern about climate change in the United States has been steadily falling since 2007, an opinion poll showed in August, as people focus on more immediate economic concerns and question the science behind climate change.
But an American student was thrown out of Thursday's talks after she gained entrance to a high-level negotiating session and accused the U.S. Congress of obstructing progress towards a new global deal.
"Time is running out"
Poor nations say they are already paying the price of climate change and want action now.
Environment Minister Herman Rosa Chavez, said a tropical depression two months ago flooded 10 percent of El Salvador and caused losses of $840 million -- four percent of gross domestic product.
"We went from being impacted by one extreme weather event per decade in the 1960s and 1970s, to nine in the last 10 years," he said.
French Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said private partnerships and voluntary agreements were no substitute for a comprehensive, legally binding agreement including all major economies.
"There's no other way. There's no Plan B for the planet," she told delegates. "Time is running out. The remaining hours of the talks here in Durban are crucial."
(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz, Andrew Allan and Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Jon Boyle)