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U.S. slams Kyoto pact as 'straitjacket'

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MILAN, Italy (Reuters) -- The United States denounced on Monday the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol as an unrealistic "straitjacket" for curbing global warming as officials from 180 nations met in Italy to work out details of the landmark pact.

Washington, which pulled out of Kyoto in 2001, said its own policy of promoting "breakthrough technologies" for energy was the "only acceptable cost-effective option" to limit gases blamed for heating the planet and to raise living standards.

Kyoto is "an unrealistic and ever-tightening regulatory straitjacket, curtailing energy consumption," Paula Dobriansky, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, wrote in the Financial Times newspaper.

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She said Kyoto exploited existing technology to choke emissions of gases like carbon dioxide from cars and factories at the expense of world economic growth.

In Milan, meanwhile, delegates met at the start of a 12-day effort to breathe some life into the protocol, hanging by a thread after Washington pulled out and Moscow backed away from promises to ratify it.

Italy's Environment Minister Altero Matteoli vowed to push on with Kyoto, which cannot enter into force without backing either from Moscow or Washington even though about 120 other nations have signed up.

Uncertainty over Kyoto's fate "should not reduce our commitment and our work to reinforce global strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt the planet's most vulnerable regions," he said.

Heat, floods

Kyoto aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions by five percent from 1990 levels by 2008-12 as a first step to limit rising temperatures blamed for climate change and more frequent floods, droughts, heat waves and storms.

But the U.N. body overseeing the talks has warned that industrialized nations' emissions could rise by eight percent from 2000 until 2010 -- a 17 percent rise from 1990 levels.

Bureaucrats and scientists will spend much of the December 1-12 conference trying to set final details of the Protocol.

Some 80 ministers are due to attend the high-level portion of the talks from December 10 with a speech by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- accused of being timid in tackling pollution by environmentalists in Italy.

Jennifer Morgan, climate policy chief of the WWF environmental group, accused Washington of sending a large delegation of about 60 people to torpedo the talks.

"The White House delegates are coming to Milan to undermine this treaty even though President (George W.) Bush pledged not to block other countries from moving forward," she said.

Dobriansky said Washington spent $1.7 billion a year on climate science and research, more than the rest of the world combined.

A key topic at the Milan meeting will be how far forests can be used to offset and absorb a country's greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the question of what exactly constitutes a forest.

A broad definition -- say including rubber or other farms with single tree species -- could be a boon to certain nations. Environmentalists argue that diverse forests should be planted.

For Milan, Italy's business capital which struggles with chronic pollution, Monday's opening session emerged as a crucial test of the city's sometimes feeble environmental management as hundreds of bus, tram and subway operators walked off the job.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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