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. Stakes Rise At UN Climate Poker Game Amid Hopes For A US Shift

A picture taken 07 November 2006 shows a general view of the plenary session of the UN Framework Conference on Climate Change during its second day in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo courtesy of Marco Longari and AFP.
by Staff Writers
Nairobi (AFP) Nov 13, 2006
UN talks on climate change are poised to shift into top gear, focusing on long-term efforts to curb greenhouse gases and placing the US under scrutiny for any hairline cracks in its bedrock opposition to the Kyoto Protocol.

Negotiations in various working parties among the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) began in Nairobi on November 6, tasked with fine-tuning Kyoto and teasing out a consensus on how to reshape the Protocol when its roster of pledges runs out in 2012.

Come Wednesday, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will kick off a three-day conference of the world's environment ministers.

Their agenda is dominated by four challenges:

-- Fleshing out the Kyoto's so-called Adaptation Fund to help poor countries cope with water scarcity, rising sea levels and other impacts from climate change.

-- Setting down markers on what cuts in carbon pollution should be made by the Kyoto countries after 2012.

At present, only industrialised signatories have to make binding, legally enforced reductions in greenhouse gases. So the pressure is rising for fast-growing developing countries such as Brazil, China and India to join them post-2102.

-- Widening access to a Kyoto facility called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which offers perks to rich countries who transfer clean technology to poor countries. Africa, the poorest continent, is benefitting the least from CDM.

-- Exploring ways of beefing up cooperation with the big Kyoto holdout, the United States, which by itself accounts for a quarter of global greenhouse-gas pollution.

A European diplomat described the mood in the Kenyan capital as sober and workmanlike, with minds sharpened by worrying expert reports in the runup to the conference.

Put together, these assessments say concentrations of greenhouse gases have now risen by more than a third since before the Industrial Revolution.

Global warming is already causing glaciers to shrivel, Arctic ice cover to retreat and permafrost to melt, while the seas are becoming more acidic from absorbing so much carbon dioxide (CO2).

Time is fast running out to avoid long-term and potentially catastrophic damage to the climate system, the experts say. A respected report authored by former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern says as few as 10 years may be now left for making real headway.

The European source said developing countries are showing signs of rallying to the European Union's goal of setting a maximum temperature rise of 2 C (3.6 F). These countries were also indicating willingness to shoulder more of the burden, the source said.

But -- as expected, for these negotiations will only get into full stride next year -- none has so far offered to join rich countries in capping or reducing their own emissions in the post-2012 pledging round, he said.

US Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky arrives on Tuesday and will be closely watched for any sign of an olive branch towards the Kyoto Protocol or its cap-and-trade format, conference sources said.

The United States signed Kyoto in 1997 and for the next three years helped shape its complex machinery, demanding the inclusion of carbon trading and the counting of trees to help ease the cost of meeting its target.

The pact was then dealt a near-mortal blow in March 2001 when President George W. Bush declared he would never submit the document to the US Senate for ratification.

But Kyoto supporters believe the crushing losses of Bush's Republican Party in last Tuesday's elections will revive US interest in tackling global warming, perhaps under the cover of economics. Lower carbon emissions means better energy efficiency -- and thus less dependence on high-cost, geopolitically risky imports of oil.

Kyoto ratifiers have promised to reduce their carbon emissions by around five percent by 2012 compared with the benchmark year of 1990. This is just a fraction of what is needed, though.

"By the middle of the century, emissions probably need to be reduced by 60 or 80 percent, at least by industrialised countries," said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer.

earlier related report
Australia to press for "New Kyoto" at UN talks
Sydney (AFP) Nov 13 - Australia, an outsider at a major UN conference on climate change in Nairobi because it refuses to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, will press for a "New Kyoto" deal, the government said Monday.

Environment Minister Ian Campbell said there was growing support for the idea from countries disillusioned with the current plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.

"There is great enthusiasm for Australia's position on 'New Kyoto'," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"Even the existing Kyoto signatories know it's not working and we need a better agreement."

Campbell will represent Australia at the UN conference in Nairobi this week, but the country's delegation has been sidelined with observer status because of its refusal to ratify the protocol.

The government's proposal for a "New Kyoto" has been dismissed by critics, including the Australian Green Party.

"It's just seen as a joke," said Greens Senator Christine Milne, who is in Nairobi for the meeting.

The Australian delegation is viewed as "a sideshow to the main game," she told ABC radio.

Australia and the United States are the only countries to have refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, charging that it could harm their economies and that developing countries do not face the same restrictions.

But in the face of Australia's worst drought in a century and voters' calls for action on climate change, Prime Minister John Howard's government has recently dropped its public scepticism over global warming.

Last month, as scientific evidence of the economic consequences of climate change mounted, Howard announced that 500 million dollars (385 million US) would be spent on a series of clean energy initiatives.

He told ABC radio Monday he recognised that global warming was a threat, but wanted to strike a balance and reduce greenhouse gases "in a fashion that doesn't hurt Australia".

"It is a problem, but it's not going to overwhelm us tomorrow, we are not going to drown in the sea in a couple of weeks time. And the earth's atmosphere is not going to shrivel in the next few years," he said.

In Nairobi this week, the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is expected to draw 6,000 experts, officials and lobbyists from 189 nations.

Delegates at the conference are focusing on the future after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

Source: Agence France-Presse

Related Links
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
Learn about Climate Science at TerraDaily.com

US, Saudi, China Rank Among Worst On Climate Change
Nairobi (AFP) Nov 13, 2006
Oil-consuming giants the United States and China along with oil-producing behemoth Saudi Arabia rank among the world's worst countries in dealing with climate change, a report said Monday. Their dependence on fossil fuels coupled with what some see as short-sighted energy policies earned them the dubious distinction of placing at or near the bottom of a survey of 56 industrialized or industrializing nations, it said.

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