December 11, 2007

Emission Cuts Debated at Climate Summit

BALI, Indonesia -- Delegates at the U.N. climate conference struggled to agree Tuesday on whether they will call on rich nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by specific amounts, and the U.N. chief warned that the human race faces oblivion if it fails to confront global warming.

Ban Ki-moon, who is presiding over the final days of a conference aimed at setting an agenda and deadline for talks on a pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol in 2012, urged quick action as negotiators haggled over wording that would be acceptable to all.

A version of the revised text obtained by The Associated Press included guidelines for industrialized countries to cut emissions by between 25 percent and 40 percent overall by 2020 - a range that is sure to anger the United States, which has repeatedly said it opposes specific target ranges.

The document also contained a new mention of "quantified national emission limitation and reduction commitments" for industrialized countries.

Ban said the time to act was now.

"The situation is so desperately serious that any delay could push us past the tipping point, beyond which the ecological, financial and human costs would increase dramatically," the U.N. secretary-general told delegates.

"We are at a crossroad," he added. "One path leads to a comprehensive climate change agreement, the other to oblivion. The choice is clear."

Talks at the conference, now in its second week, stepped up Tuesday with the arrival of Ban and Australia's new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who signed onto the Kyoto Protocol just last week. Former Vice President Al Gore was to arrive Wednesday, two days after picking up his Nobel Peace Prize for sounding the alarm over global warming.

The latest revision of the document also called on negotiators of the future climate pact to consider "measurable and reportable national mitigation actions" by developing countries - a nod to demands by the United States and others that up-and-coming economies such as China take on commitments to curb pollution.

The draft will be the object of hard negotiations in coming days. The United States has supported only voluntary emissions targets, and was likely to oppose including the word "commitment" - which was not in a previous draft - from the final decision.

Developing nations have argued wealthy countries should take the first step in battling global warming because historically they have caused the problem. The mention of "action" by poorer countries was likely to attract their opposition.

The latest draft included dozens of changes from the earlier version, suggesting that negotiators were far from agreement on the final wording. In past years, the last day of talks on the declaration have dragged on to the early hours of the next day.

Delegates and environmentalists have publicly sparred over the inclusion of emissions guidelines in recent days.

The United States, the only major industrialized nation to reject the Kyoto Protocol, argues it is too early in the negotiation stage to put specific targets or emissions cuts guidelines in the Bali document. Negotiations for a post-Kyoto pact are to last at least two years.

The European Union, developing countries and environmentalists, however, have rallied strenuously in favor of including general goals in the Bali declaration.

Stavros Dimas, the European commissioner for environment, said deep emissions cuts were crucial to preventing a devastating increase in global temperatures. The European Union has committed itself to 20 percent to 30 percent reductions below 1990 levels by 2020.

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

Australia, which embraced the Kyoto pact after years of opposition, has shied away from supporting the emissions goals, saying it must await the conclusion of a study next year.

"Our long-term target ... to reduce our greenhouse emissions by 60 percent by 2050 against 2000 levels is an ambitious target," said Prime Minister Rudd. "We will establish a proper and methodological basis ... to determine an interim target."

Canada and Japan also oppose inclusion of the suggested figures.

The struggle over targets coincided with the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Kyoto accord on Dec. 11, 1997, in Japan. The U.N. cut a giant birthday cake to mark the occasion.

The 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. President Bush contends the emissions cuts would harm the U.S. economy, and should have been imposed on China, India and other fast-growing poorer economies.

Japanese Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita, whose country is having difficulty meeting its Kyoto targets, referred to these troubles at the pact's "birthday party" in Bali.

"It's only 10 years old yet, it's still a child," he said. "At the age of 10, children can be quite difficult, and so it is with the Kyoto Protocol."