Climate Talks Extended to Saturday

Charles J. Hanley in Bali, Indonesia
Associated Press
December 14, 2007
Officials at the United Nations climate conference in Bali, Indonesia extended closed-door talks into Saturday, as they neared resolution in a dispute over targets for greenhouse-gas emissions cuts.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was to arrive on the island later Saturday morning, either to announce the successful launching of the "Bali Road Map" negotiations or to help break any lingering impasse.

Yvo de Boer, the UN climate chief, said late Friday the talks were going "slower than I had expected." Still, he thought the conference was "on the brink of agreement."

"People are working very hard to resolve outstanding issues," he said.

Bali Road Map

The negotiating agenda set at Bali and the results of two years of negotiations to follow will help determine for decades how well the world can hold down its rising temperatures.

Delegates for days had sparred over the wording of the conference's main decision document. Its most contentious passage was the European Union's suggestion of a goal of reducing emissions by between 25 percent and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020—a target the United States did not think should be binding.

Trying to break the deadlock, the conference president, Indonesia's Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar, proposed revised language dropping those mid-range numbers but still reaffirming that emissions should be reduced at least by half by 2050.

De Boer told reporters the mid-range of 25 percent to 40 percent was implicit—"an inevitable stop on that road"—in the 50 percent goal for the middle of the century.

Witoelar's proposal provided a basis for the expected compromise, producing a relatively vague mandate for two years of negotiations. As worded, his draft Bali Road Map did not guarantee any level of binding commitment by any nation.

The draft was to instruct negotiators to consider incentives and other means to encourage less developed nations to curb, on a voluntary basis, growth in their emissions.

De Boer said worldwide public opinion forced the more than 180 national delegations here to find a way to agree, as they continue talking about an emissions regime to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

"I don't think any politician can afford to walk away from here," De Boer told reporters. "Perhaps most of all the United States."

The United States is the only major industrial nation to reject the Kyoto agreement.

The Bush administration instead favors a voluntary approach—each country deciding how it can contribute—in place of internationally negotiated and legally binding commitments.

For years the rest of the world has sought to bring the Americans into the framework of international mandates. At this point, however, many officials seemed resigned to waiting for a change in White House leadership after next November's U.S. election, hoping the next administration would agree to tougher targets.

Recent Reports

In a series of landmark reports this year, the U.N.'s network of climate scientists warned of severe consequences—including rising seas, droughts, severe weather, species extinction, and other effects—without sharp cutbacks in emissions of the industrial, transportation, and agricultural gases blamed for warming.

To avoid the worst, the Nobel Prize-winning panel said, emissions should be reduced by 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

The Kyoto Protocol nations have accepted that goal, and the numbers were written into early versions of this conference's draft—not as a binding target but as a suggestion in the document's preamble.

The U.S. delegation immediately opposed any inclusion of such numbers, complaining they would tend to "drive the negotiations in one direction," as U.S. negotiator Harlan Watson put it.

Environmentalists accused the U.S. of trying to wreck future talks.

Developing Participation

"The United States in particular is behaving like passengers in first class in a jumbo jet, thinking a catastrophe in economy class won't affect them," said Tony Juniper, a spokesperson for the environmentalist coalition here. "If we go down, we go down together, and the United States needs to realize that very quickly."

The draft final document also called for developing countries to take new steps toward restraining growth in their emissions. The exemption of such fast-growing economies as China's and India's from the Kyoto pact was a major U.S. complaint.

Such actions by China, Brazil, and others—not envisioned as legally binding by the draft Bali Road Map document—would be key to winning broad acceptance of deeper, mandatory cuts among richer nations.

The EU had threatened to withdraw from separate U.S.-led climate talks if Bali didn't endorse the 25 percent to 40 percent emissions reduction guideline. In those "Major Economies" talks, opened by President Bush in September, Washington is seeking pledges from 16 other nations—responsible, with the U.S., for 80 percent of global emissions—to curtail greenhouse gases according to each country's formula.

The Europeans and others showed little enthusiasm for this "voluntary" approach, and environmentalists denounced it as an effort to subvert the U.N. climate treaty process. It remains to be seen whether EU countries will attend the next meeting, in Honolulu in late January.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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