Mexico announces carbon cap at climate talks

POZNAN, Poland (AP) -- Developing countries upbraided rich nations at U.N. climate talks Thursday, saying they were refusing to act boldly enough to stop global warming. Mexico sought to prod others into action by becoming the first developing country to announce a cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

As 145 environment ministers and other leaders gathered for the final phase of the two-week talks, delegates from poor countries made emotional pleas to rich countries to take the lead in cutting the heat-trapping gases that their factories have pumped into the air since the Industrial Revolution.

Countries like the United States, Canada and Japan have resisted deep emissions cuts without similar sacrifice from the developing world. They argue that unilateral action on their part would harm their economies, and would not solve the crisis if industrializing countries like China and India keep spewing out ever more carbon dioxide.

The attitude of the rich countries "borders on the immoral and is counterproductive," said John Ashe, Antigua's ambassador to the U.N., speaking on behalf of 130 developing countries plus China.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel conceded that "our negotiations are by far not progressing fast enough. We are not making any progress on crucial issues."

"If industrialized countries carry on playing games with words in an attempt to shirk their responsibilities, we will become a laughing stock," Gabriel said.

To spur global collective action, Mexico's environment secretary, Juan Rafael Elvira, announced his country's plan to cut 2002 greenhouse gas emission levels by 50 percent by 2050. Still, he said Mexico's goal of using solar power, wind and other clean technologies could only be reached with financial and technological help from wealthier nations.

The Mexican plan includes establishing a cap-and-trade system that would set emissions limits on certain sectors, such as cement, electricity and oil refining, which account for the vast majority of its emissions. Companies that reduce their emissions below those limits could sell their unused allowances on the international carbon market.

The move makes Mexico the only developing country to set a voluntary national target below current levels, said Antonio Hill, senior policy adviser for Oxfam. South Korea has said it would announce an emissions cap next year, and South Africa has a detailed plan to peak emissions in 2025.

"It's a very significant step because a major emerging economy is saying that it will put a limit on its emissions for key sectors which account for the majority of its emissions," said Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Officials at the talks in Poland are working on a new worldwide treaty to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It is supposed to be concluded next December in Copenhagen, Denmark, and would replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Environmentalists have also sharply criticized the rich countries, saying they have done too little to battle global warming. But many developing countries, including Brazil, China, South Africa, and now Mexico, have won praise for taking strong steps in fighting climate change.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged rich countries to take a leading role by offering financial resources and technological help to emerging economies. He also warned the world against backsliding in the fight against climate change amid the global financial crisis, calling for a renewed sense of urgency in facing "the defining challenge of our era."

"The economic crisis is serious; yet when it comes to climate change, the stakes are far higher," Ban told the conference. "The climate crisis affects our potential prosperity and our people's lives, both now and far into the future."

He said he was considering holding a summit-level meeting focused on climate change around the U.N. General Assembly next September to get countries' leaders involved in the process.

Former U.S. vice president and Nobel Peace prize laureate Al Gore urged negotiators at the conference to be bold.

"The delegates must free themselves of the old, outdated way of looking at the planet," he said. "Some changes will occur, but the worst of the consequences can be avoided if we act."

Sen. John Kerry said the United States will have a climate policy in place within a year that would allow it to join a worldwide treaty on global warming. Kerry told The Associated Press the key to the treaty is a commitment by all nations, not just industrial countries, to cut emissions.

Island states, meanwhile, warned they could sink into the ocean unless the world moved quickly to cut the emissions that scientists say are causing sea levels to rise.

"The very survival of our islands and cultures depends on the decisions we make over the next 12 months," Grenada delegate Sylvester Quarless said. "Join with us to ensure that no island is left behind."

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Associated Press writers Geir Moulson, Ryan Lucas and Arthur Max contributed to this report.

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