By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States' new proposal to let countries draft their own emissions reduction plans rather than working toward a common target can unlock languishing U.N. climate negotiations, the U.S. climate change envoy said on Tuesday.
The proposal that a global climate deal by 2015 should be based on national "contributions" gained traction at last week's round of U.N. climate talks in Germany, although China, the world's biggest carbon emitter, said it wanted far more binding commitments by wealthy countries.
In the first public U.S. statements on the plan, Todd Stern, the U.S. State Department's Special Envoy on Climate Change, told reporters on Tuesday that the U.S. approach was designed to bring as many countries as possible to the table through a form of peer pressure and break the impass over a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
"Countries, knowing that they will be subject to the scrutiny of everybody else, will be urged to put something down they feel they can defend and that they feel is strong," Stern said from Berlin during a summit of environmental ministers focused on ways to advance the U.N. climate talks.
The approach would mean abandoning the format of the Kyoto Protocol, to which the United States was not a signatory, which set central goals for industrialized countries to cut emissions by 2012 and then let each work out national implementation.
Stern said that having each country's plans and targets "in an environment of intense public interest" may encourage countries to step up their existing plans.
Stern said countries could submit their initial plans several months before a ministerial meeting in Paris in 2015 to let other countries and stakeholders review the plans, and give enough time to strengthen or clarify the proposals.
The plan, said Stern, would provide an alternative to a negotiation process that has failed so far to deliver a legally binding agreement for both developing and developed countries to reduce their emissions under a common target.
"It is very hard for us to imagine a negotiation with dozens and dozens and dozens of counties actually negotiating everybody else's targets and timetables," Stern said.
In recent weeks, the concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere has approached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human history, according to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, a mostly symbolic threshold but one that shows how rapidly carbon dioxide levels have been rising.
Carbon dioxide concentrations have risen from around 350 ppm in the past 25 years.
"The urgency of the situation is absolutely real but I don't think it has dramatically changed for climate negotiators this week as compared to before the news," Stern said, referring to the Scripps study.
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; editing by Ros Krasny and Alden Bentley)