April 5, 2008

Nations Agree on Agenda for Climate Talks

Climate negotiators have unveiled an ambitious agenda for talks designed to form a historic global warming pact between Japan and other developing countries on how to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

A schedule was planned after a five days meeting in Bangkok"”requiring negotiators to settle contentions issues that include how countries will cut their emissions and how rich nations will help the poor adapt to climate change effects.

"This is significant in the sense that it's an important set of steps to implement the Bali action plan," said Kyoji Komachi, Japan's top negotiator in Bangkok.

Negotiations had stalled because of developing nations' heated opposition to early discussion of a Japanese proposal to set industry-specific emissions reduction targets. Developing nations want rich countries to agree to set national targets first.

The first negotiations involved representatives from 163 countries who met in Bangkok to discuss a warming pact meant to take effect after 2012. Scientists say to avoid the worst effects of climate change the world needs to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions in the next 10 to 15 years and cut them in half by 2050.

In-depth discussions of the Japanese proposal were postponed until August to satisfy critics in developing nations. Other issues, such as rich countries' efforts to help poor nations adapt to rising temperatures, will take top priority.

A call for discussion of what the U.S. emissions reduction targets might be in the new agreement was deleted from an earlier draft, as delegates would like to wait until 2009, when a new American president will be in office. The Bush administration has been critical of deep emissions reductions.

"It's just a political call of when you deal with the things that are most difficult," said Ian Fry, representative of the island nation of Tuvalu.

Discussions for the transfer of clean technologies from rich countries to developing nations were scheduled at the June meeting in Bonn. An August meeting in Ghana would address the Japanese proposal, as well as deforestation.

China, India and other developing countries strongly opposed the Japanese plan. They argued it was an attempt to shift the burden of responsibility for climate change from rich to poor nations.

Tokyo hopes for an agreement on energy efficiency targets for specific industries across national boundaries. Proponents say it would preserve competition, while rewarding nations like Japan that already have high levels of energy efficiency.

Poorer countries fear it would favor nations with a technological edge by allowing them to make fewer cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. They objected to holding in-depth discussions on it in June, as called for in an earlier draft work plan.

"We would have very strong reservations," said Su Wei, a Chinese delegate who is responsible for the government's climate change policy.

 Wei says the plan is intended to substitute for targets and would shift the burden on developing countries, which are not very advanced in energy efficiency technology.

The Japanese proposal was dismissed as a "huge protectionist scam" by one Indian delegate, while the G-77 grouping of developing countries refused to include any reference to it in the work plan.

Japan is struggling to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and is campaigning to put its approach at the center of the future warming agreement, which would take effect when the Kyoto pact ends in 2012.

Komachi said Japan was not using the proposal to force developing countries into the same emissions targets as wealthy industrialized nations. But he was happy with the final document.

"I think it's positive," he said.

The U.S. insists that discussions over actions it will take to reduce greenhouse gases coincide with talks about what developing nations will do.

Developing nations argue that U.S. and other industrialized countries should take the first steps in cutting emissions, since they are responsible for the bulk of the world's emissions.

The new global warming pact is meant to succeed the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, which requires 37 industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

The United States is the only industrialized nation not to have ratified Kyoto.

However, the U.S. agreed with nearly 200 other nations at a conference in Bali in December to negotiate a new agreement by the end of 2009.