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U.S. singled out as world's largest polluter at Hague conference
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (Reuters) -- U.S. lawmakers reacted sharply on Monday to criticism from French President Jacques Chirac that the United States was ducking its responsibility to cut greenhouse gas emissions implicated in global warming.
Chirac opened a crucial second week of U.N.-backed climate change talks with a direct call to the United States, the world's biggest polluter, to take a lead in cutting pollution that scientists warn could have catastrophic consequences on global weather patterns.
"Each American emits three times more greenhouse gases than a Frenchman," Chirac told the conference in the Hague.
"It is in the Americans, in the first place, that we place our hopes of effectively limiting greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale," he said. "No country can elude its share of the collective effort."
U.S. senators attending the Hague talks, called to put flesh on the bones of an accord signed in the Japanese city of Kyoto three years ago, responded angrily, saying the French leader's comments were "unproductive."
Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said: "I don't believe President Chirac's statement today was particularly helpful for the success of this conference.
"To single out the United States, as he did rather directly, does not facilitate a cooperative spirit."
Fellow Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho admitted the United States was guilty of wasting energy, but said this had brought benefits in science, technology and medicine.
Defending his own state's large agricultural output, Craig said two thirds of U.S. farm production was exported to feed people around the world.
"Are (our farmers) large consumers of energy? Yes. Are they large producers? Yes. They're proud of it. The president's speech was very unproductive," Craig said.
Who should pay?
Political leaders arrived in The Hague to try and break a deadlock between the world's wealthier countries over who should pay to cut pollution.
While Europe has urged the industrialized world to take tough action by cutting emissions of carbon dioxide, the main culprit in raising global temperatures, the U.S. and others prefer market-based measures such as buying the right to pollute elsewhere.
They could do this by trading emissions credits -- buying pollution quotas from nations who easily meet their Kyoto emission reduction targets.
This would allow the United States to avoid unpopular steps at home, such as higher energy taxes on industry and consumers.
Both Hagel and Craig are wary of the Kyoto deal's potential threat to the U.S. economy and sovereignty, key to the U.S. Senate's opposition to the accord.
U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, a Democrat locked in a bitter struggle for the next presidency with Republican George W. Bush, was deeply involved in the Kyoto agreement.
Both senators said they wanted the United States to remain a part of the global process to tackle climate change and would not want to see the Senate rush to throw out any agreement.
"If you are asking whether bringing it to the Senate for a slam-dunk 'no' vote would solve the problem, I don't think it would. I think we should remain engaged," Craig said.
The Kyoto pact requires the United States to cut carbon emissions by seven percent from 1990 levels by 2008-2014.
Chirac urges revolutionary thinking
The EU wants those nations required to make emissions cuts to make at least half of them at home, limiting use of emissions trading or other flexible mechanisms foreseen under Kyoto.
Chirac said society needed to undergo a "revolution in our way of thinking" and change the way economies consume natural resources.
"Cutting down on our consumption of raw materials, diversifying our sources of supply, recycling waste, (using) new materials, energy efficiency and developing renewable energies: these are the choices that ought to inspire us in our policy making," he said.
However, the French leader, who currently also holds the presidency of the 15-nation EU, made one conciliatory gesture towards the United States.
He appeared to offer some support, over the long term, to a U.S. idea of using new and existing forests and farmland to soak up pollution, so-called carbon "sinks."
"If it were to be (scientifically) confirmed that reforestation, the fight against desertification and the fight against global warming can be mutually reinforcing, then we would be wrong to rule out this course."
The EU has so far opposed the carbon "sink" idea, put forward by the United States, Japan and Canada as a way to offset some of their emissions reduction targets.
Scientists say the Earth's temperature could rise by up to six degrees Centigrade (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, with devastating consequences on the environment and human life.
Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Pivotal world conference on climate change gets under way
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
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