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Europe's cities take the lead on cutting emissions

Outpacing global efforts, they've set targets even more ambitious than those on the table at this week's climate talks in Bali.

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With solar-powered streetlights and energy-efficient power generators, this town 25 miles southwest of London is at the vanguard of a promising movement accelerating emissions-cutting programs.

From the metropolises of London and Stockholm to hamlets like Güssing in Austria, communities are showing that you don't necessarily need international treaties or global rules to force climate change action.

"Our aim is for the cities to push the governments to act on climate change," says Pedro Ballesteros Torres, manager of the European Commission's Sustainable Energy Europe campaign. "If we want to tackle climate change we have to be local."

Woking officials indeed see the town of 100,000 as a shining example of the power of alternative energy.

"We have cut emissions by 21 percent since 1990," says Lara Curran, who heads the climate change program for the local council. If the national grid were to go down, locals here boast, the town would remain lit up. "Woking is a small town but this shows we can make a difference," says Curran.

Governments struggling to meet even the 5 percent set by the 1997 Kyoto agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, may well need some pushing from local initiatives. As more than 180 nations meet to draft a post-Kyoto treaty in Bali this week, the signs are not encouraging.

Many scientists and United Nations officials believe industrial nations must cut emissions by as much as 80 percent by 2050 to stop the world from overheating. But recent figures from UN, European Union, and academic sources show:

• Of the EU's core 15 nations, only Britain, France, Germany, and Sweden are on course to meet their Kyoto commitments.

• Global carbon dioxide emissions have risen by an average 2.9 percent each year since 2000 – up from 0.7 percent in the 1990s.

• US emissions rose 16.3 percent between 1990 and 2005.

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