UN secretary-general puts climate deal atop to-do list

Many Western nations have balked at committing to greenhouse gas emissions reductions during the global economic recession.

In the United States, many Republican lawmakers want to avoid handicapping domestic industry, saying emissions limits would take cheap energy sources out of the mix. They also note economic rivals such as China have been exempted from previous climate agreements.

And while President Obama devoted prime space to climate change in his Monday inaugural address, signing the U.S. onto an international treaty would require the consent of Congress.

Congress never ratified the current international climate agreement — the Kyoto Protocol — in part because it exempted emerging economies, such as India and China. Canada, Japan and Russia pulled out of the pact in 2011 for that reason.

India and China are rapidly adding coal-fired power plants, and will account for a bulk of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions growth. That, along with the lack of serious climate change commitment from Western nations, has jeopardized a goal of keeping global temperature rises below 3.6 F by 2020.

The thorny issue of how to treat emerging economies handcuffed negotiators at a December U.N. climate conference.

In the end, the conference agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol without some of the world’s biggest polluters on board. Negotiators also recommitted to cementing a new global climate treaty by 2015.

— This story was updated at 9:59 a.m.