December 11, 2007

Battle Over Emissions at Climate Meeting

BALI, Indonesia -- The battle over whether to include greenhouse gas emissions targets in the "roadmap" for a new climate accord intensified Tuesday, with the Europeans and environmentalists clamoring for the targets against opposition by the U.S. and others.

Talks at the U.N. climate change conference, now in its second week, stepped up with the scheduled arrival of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Australia's new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who signed onto the Kyoto Protocol on global warming just last week.

Delegates from 190 nations have been trying to hammer out a roadmap for negotiations for a pact to succeed Kyoto when it expires in 2012 but have struggled with the wording for the text.

A draft of the final document notes - in a nonbinding way - a widely accepted view that reductions of 25 percent to 40 percent in industrialized nations' overall emissions would be required by 2020, calling for even deeper cuts later.

The United States is resisting inclusion of the language. But Stavros Dimas, the European commissioner for environment, said it was crucial toward preventing global temperatures from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels.

"We need this range of reductions by developed countries," he told reporters Tuesday. "Science tells us that these reductions are necessary. Logic requires that we listen to science."

The European Union has itself committed to 20 percent to 30 percent reductions below 1990 levels by 2020.

Chief U.S. negotiator Harlan Watson has argued against including the targets, saying it would be premature to set goals - even non-binding ones - at the opening of what is expected to be at least two years of negotiation toward a post-Kyoto agreement.

The U.S. is expected to win out, since Bali's decisions require consensus, and the final "Bali roadmap" is expected to be what has been long anticipated - a vague, broad mandate for two years of negotiations on Kyoto's successor.

U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said that the range was only meant to guide subsequent negotiations, but that including it was not vital. He said the most important goals for Bali were to set an agenda and a deadline for subsequent talks, not set targets.

"These figures do not - do not - prejudge the outcome of negotiations," de Boer said.

Australia, despite its sudden embrace of the Kyoto pact, has shied away from supporting the interim target range, saying it must await the conclusion of a study sometime next year.

"We recognize the need for an interim target," said Penny Wong, Australia's minister for climate change. "We have a clear process of scientific and economic analysis to determine what that interim target should be."

Canada and Japan also oppose inclusion of the suggested figures.

Environmentalists urged them to reconsider.

"This is not the direction we need to be going in. The stakes are too high for this kind of political games," said Alden Meyer with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The struggle over targets coincided with the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Kyoto accord in Japan.

The Kyoto pact requires 36 industrial nations to reduce carbon dioxide and other industrial, transportation and agricultural gases blamed for global warming by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels in the next five years.

The U.S. is the only major industrial nation to reject Kyoto. President Bush contended the emissions cuts would harm the U.S. economy, and should have been imposed on China, India and other fast-growing poorer economies.

The rest of the world hopes to enlist the United States in the next, post-Kyoto phase of internationally binding greenhouse-gas reductions. The change in U.S. administrations after next November's presidential election is expected to introduce a new attitude on climate change.

Many are hoping Australia, following its decision to sign Kyoto, will play a leading role.

"At this critical stage, the ministers now have to step up and ensure these negotiations deliver and fulfill the wishes of the Australian people," said Stephen Campbell from Greenpeace. "They also have to fulfill the expectations of the bulk of the global community as well."