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People wearing face masks walk on the street in Singapore on June 21, 2013, a day when Singapore's smog index hit the critical 400 level, making it potentially life-threatening to the ill and elderly people. / ROSLAN RAHMAN AFP/Getty Images

The Obama administration is likely to use upcoming climate talks to push for a treaty-less accord that would "name and shame" countries into reducing their heat-trapping carbon emissions.

Faced with a Congress that has balked at fighting climate change, U.S. negotiators are not expected to seek a new legally-binding treaty that would require Senate ratification. Instead, they're more apt to seek emission-cutting pledges from major polluters such as China.

"I believe there will be a pledge-and-review agreement" that would be politically but not legally binding, says Paul Bledsoe, a senior climate change official in the Clinton administration who has talked to the Obama White House.

"It's kind of what the U.S. has done the last five years," says Bledsoe, now a senior fellow in climate and energy issues at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. In 2009, President Obama made an international pledge to cut U.S. emissions 17% from 2005 levels by 2020.

The United Nations is holding a climate summit Sept. 23 in New York City to advance another round of U.N. talks in December in Lima, Peru, that are slated to yield a new climate agreement next year in Paris.

As part of the negotiations, the Obama administration will sidestep Congress by seeking a political accord rather than a global treaty, the New York Times reported Wednesday, saying it wants to avoid another Kyoto failure. In 1997, the U.N. signed a climate change treaty in Kyoto, Japan, that the U.S. Senate never ratified.

State Department spokesman Jen Psaki declined to describe the U.S. approach. "Not a word of the new climate agreement currently under discussion has been written, so it is entirely premature to say whether it will or won't require Senate approval," she said in a statement.

Yet climate experts say Obama has little choice. "Realistically what else is he going to do," says Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the nonpartisan Georgetown Climate Center, noting his inability to get the two-thirds majority needed to ratify a treaty.

"They're going for more of a political agreement," Arroyo says. She says there's a track record for this approach. Like the U.S., many countries including China made reduction pledges during the United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009.

"The naming and shaming has already happened," Arroyo says, adding it can go a long way to pressuring countries to take action. Based on a 2012 U.N. agreement, countries are expected to submit emission-cutting proposals by the end of March to be included in next year's accord.

"Major countries can't make a commitment, violate it and thumb their nose at the international community," Bledsoe says. He argues that won't be acceptable, because climate change is seen as too important of an issue.

Bledsoe says several countries, including Canada and Japan, would - like the U.S. - have trouble getting a treaty ratified but they are still serious about cutting emissions. He says India, because of economic troubles, may have a difficult time making a commitment, but he expects China, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, will do so.

"China's definitely moving in that direction," spurred largely by its need to reduce its air pollution, says Georgetown University professor Joanna Lewis, who focuses on China's energy policies. She says it's unclear whether its 2015 pledge will be an absolute emissions cut or, as in 2009, a reduction based on economic output.

Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat from the coal-producing state of West Virginia, said Wednesday that he will try to stop any administration "end-run around Congress."

Ultimately, though, fighting climate change will require emission cuts from major countries - with or without a treaty, says Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. He says he's encouraged by what he sees, adding: "There's a growing sign that countries are taking this seriously."



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: U.S. eyes 'name and shame' in climate talks

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