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UN Climate Conference Focuses on Greenhouse Gasses


The U.N. Climate Change conference opened in Kenya's capital with experts outlining the challenges of reducing greenhouse gases globally and the United States defending its programs to reduce such harmful emissions.

Among conference participants are those coming from developed nations such as the United States that produce high levels of so-called greenhouse gasses.

These include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide that, in excess, can form a barrier that prevents the sun's energy from radiating back into space, raising the earth's temperature.

Other participants represent developing countries such as those in sub-Saharan Africa that are suffering the greatest impacts from global warming, in the forms of rising sea levels, drought, declining crop yields, and other effects.

The president of the Climate Change conference, Kenyan environment minister Kivutha Kibwana, told reporters that conference organizers aim to focus on common solutions rather than divisions. "We are not really interested in blaming each other about who is more responsible for the problem than the other, because if you go that route, you are likely to get a situation where you wouldn't have a good environment for dialogue," he said.

But the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat, Yvo de Boer, admits that the positions of different countries will make discussions slow and arduous. "Their (countries') interests conflict in a number of areas. For example, you could have heard oil-producing countries talking this morning about the fear that action on climate change will affect their incomes. You also heard small island states talking this morning about the fact that failing to act on climate change will lead to sea level rise for them, basically making their countries unlivable. You heard large developing countries say their overriding concern is economic growth and poverty eradication, and they can't be asked to put that in a second place in order to address the reduction of emissions. And you heard industrialized countries saying, we are willing to move forward, but our competitors have to do it as well," he said.

Conflicting interests of developing and developed countries are among the challenges in the fight against global warming.

Others include how to come up with the money to pay for initiatives and technologies to cut the emission of greenhouse gasses and how best to help developing countries to cope with the effects of global warming.

The United States and Australia are often under fire for not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, which legally commits countries to reducing their output of six carbon gasses most responsible for causing global warming.

U.S. State Department Senior Climate Negotiator Harlan Watson told reporters the U.S. government is committed to tackling the problem of global warming. "Domestically, we have in place more than 60 mandatory, incentive-based, and voluntary federal programs designed to help meet the President's greenhouse gas intensity goal, which would reduce emissions by some 50 million metric tons of carbon-equivalent through 2012, an amount equal to taking about 70 million cars off the road," he said.

This is the first time that the U.N. Climate Change conference has been held in sub-Saharan Africa. The gathering ends November 17, is expected to draw six-thousand participants.

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