WASHINGTON: Lack of action on the climate change bill bogged down in the US Senate will not stop Washington from seeking a framework to curb carbon emissions at next month's summit in Copenhagen, experts say.
"I don't think that anyone is expecting a legal pact at this point," Michael Levi, an expert on climate issues at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, told AFP.
But US President Barack Obama already hinted this week that the United States would seek to create a "framework for progress" at the summit, which he said would pave the way to stem a "potential ecological disaster."
No one expects the United States to arrive in Copenhagen with definitive targets for cutting its emissions of greenhouse gases or set numbers for helping developing nations combat climate change, two prerequisites for a deal, according to Levi.
"The Senate will still be working on the bill when Copenhagen begins and ends," he said, and possibly not agreeing on final wording until next year.
The summit in the Danish capital has been set up to seal a treaty to succeed the landmark Kyoto Protocol -- which the United States never signed. Kyoto's obligations to cut carbon emissions expire in 2012.
The Republican minority in the Senate and a Democratic lawmakers from coal industry-reliant states are however fiercely opposed to the creation of a scheme for cutting carbon emissions, known as "Cap and Trade," which aims to promote development of clean energy sources.
"There is a big question as to whether a deal can be made on the architecture of an agreement without one on the content," Levi said, however.
The United States, unlike other participating countries, such as those in the European Union, could likely be willing to sign on to a framework of an agreement, without putting a finger on hard numbers, Levi added.
The House of Representatives in June narrowly passed the plan to curb carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020, but the bill already criticized by other developed nations as not ambitious enough is bogged down in the Senate, where a slightly more ambitious version calls for a 20-percent cut by 2020.
Critics of "cap and trade" say the plan would boost electricity bills and cost jobs persuasive arguments with the US economy struggling to regain its footing as the recession drags on and the national unemployment rate exceeds 10 percent.
Large numbers of US lawmakers also reject the idea of a binding climate commitment for the United States without similar accords for major emerging powerhouses such as China. Taken together the two nations are the world's largest carbon dioxide emitters, amounting to 40 percent of the total output.
Todd Stern, Obama's special envoy for climate change, told US lawmakers this week that the United States cannot commit to a deal in Copenhagen if "major developing countries make no commitment at all," adding that "no country holds the fate of the Earth in its hands more than China."
Some developing nations employ "dubious interpretations" of former climate change agreements "to prove they don't have any responsibility for action," Stern lamented in November 4 testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Despite such obstacles, the Copenhagen summit "might still present an opportunity to significantly advance the international climate effort," Eileen Clausen, president of the non-profit organization Pew Center on Global Climate Change, told lawmakers at the same Foreign Affairs hearing.
"We have believed for some time that it would not be feasible to achieve a full, final ratifiable agreement in Copenhagen," she said, noting that domestic issues for some nations including the United States will prevent them from bringing the "specific and binding commitments" needed for a ultimate deal.
But Clausen said the summit may be able to produce an agreement on the "fundamental architecture of a post-2012 framework, which would provide a basis for then negotiating towards specific commitments in a final legal agreement."