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US election deals another blow to climate talks

Climate, iceberg

The election of a Republican senator in the state of Massachusetts on Tuesday could seriously hamper the adoption of a US cap-and-trade law this year. Bolstered opposition to the US proposal will deal another blow to the ailing international climate talks.

The election is important because it sends a signal to the international community and carbon markets that the US is very unlikely to adopt a cap-and-trade scheme. The Democrats, who support the idea, are also increasingly worried about competitiveness issues ahead of November's Congressional elections.

The EU is in a state of paralysis after the UN's climate summit in Copenhagen, which means hopes of restarting international talks are now resting on the success of initiatives in other countries, such as the US cap-and-trade proposal. But concerns over the economy are increasingly dominating the debate.

In Europe, internal disagreements between member states over the conditional 30% emission reduction target are re-emerging with Italy and Poland concerned about its impact on their industries despite increasing evidence that costs would be significantly lower because of the economic downturn.

Despite several forthcoming EU meetings scheduled to discuss climate change, it is becoming clear that it will take months before Europe agrees on out what to do next. As European Council president Herman van Rompuy recently said: "This process is probably more complex than we have thought."

A political paralysis in both Europe and the US could make other major emitters such as China and India even more reluctant to commit to ambitious actions. India, China, South Africa and Brazil will meet in India next week to discuss their positions ahead of a 31 January deadline to disclose their climate commitments.

UN climate chief Yvo de Boer showed more optimism on Wednesday, saying the election would not "cause a landslide in US politics on climate change". Concerns over energy security have not gone away, he said. "[The US] is firmly committed to the climate change agenda. The question is how that agenda will pan out."

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