UN Talks Set Road Map for Kyoto Beyond 2012
By David Fogarty and Mary Milliken
MONTREAL — Environment ministers agreed on Saturday to a road map to extend the Kyoto Protocol climate pact beyond 2012, breaking two weeks of deadlock at UN talks aimed at curbing global warming.
Ministers also agreed to launch new, open-ended world talks on ways to fight climate change that will include Kyoto outsiders such as the United States and developing nations. Washington had long resisted taking part in the talks.
"This is a watershed in the fight against climate change," European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told reporters of the accords after talks that dragged on till nearly dawn. The conference was attended by 10,000 delegates.
"There is still a harsh road in front of us," Dimas said about the long-term drive to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases released by burning fossil fuels and blamed for heating the atmosphere and oceans.
Environment activists cheered, hugged and some even cried after the delegates passed what they hailed as historic decisions to brake catastrophic changes ranging from desertification to rising sea levels.
"There were many potential points at this meeting when the world could have given up due to the tactics of the Bush administration and others but it did not," said Jennifer Morgan, climate change expert at the WWF conservation group.
The United States, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, pulled out of Kyoto in 2001, saying a fixation on emissions targets would harm economic growth, a view challenged on Friday in Montreal by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Washington agreed to join the open-ended dialogue only after Canada and the European Union watered down the text and spelled out that it would not lead to formal negotiations or commitments or the type of emissions caps enshrined in Kyoto.
"The text that was adopted recognizes the diversity of approaches," said U.S. climate negotiator Harlan Watson.
Washington favors voluntary measures and big investments in technology like hydrogen or carbon storage. Other countries are seeking to engage Washington for the long haul, hoping President George W. Bush’s successor will be less skeptical of UN-led action on the environment.
The Montreal talks followed a twin track — one pursuing negotiations to advance Kyoto and the other under the broader UN Framework Convention on Climate Convention, Kyoto’s parent treaty ratified by Washington.
"We are delighted," said Margaret Beckett, environment secretary for Britain, head of the rotating European Union presidency.
Stephane Dion, Canada’s environment minister and chair of the Montreal talks, was relieved. "Finally, we have achieved what many claimed was unattainable," he told delegates at the final session.
"Facing the worst ecological threat to humanity, you have said: the world is united, and together, step by step, we will win this fight," he said.
The Kyoto decision urges rich nations to decide, as early as possible, new commitments for the period starting in 2013 so that there is a seamless transition when the current phase ends in 2012. Beckett said that this would reassure traders in carbon dioxide markets.
Under Kyoto, about 40 industrialized nations have to cut their emissions by an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012.
But developing countries, such as China and India, have no targets under Kyoto and say that rich industrial states — having fueled their economies with coal, oil and gas since the Industrial Revolution — have to take the lead in cutting emissions.
The agreement on a Kyoto renewal road map gives members seven years to negotiate and ratify accords by the time the first phase ends in 2012. Most countries agree that deeper cuts will be needed to avoid climate chaos in coming decades.
Global warming is widely blamed on a build-up of gases from burning fossil fuels in power plants, cars and factories.
With the talks over, a huge sigh of relief swept through the vast conference hall after a 20-hour session that left delegates exhausted and a little emotional. Some environmentalists said the Montreal talks would have profound consequences for humanity.
"At 6.17 this morning, (Dion) brought down the gavel on a set of agreements that may well save the planet," said Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club of Canada.