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Tough road lies ahead for global climate deal

The United States, which snubbed Kyoto, and developing nations, which have no obligations under it, agreed at a conference in December in Bali, Indonesia, to negotiate to craft the next treaty.
by Staff Writers
Bangkok (AFP) April 5, 2008
There have been numerous disagreements during a week of intense climate change talks in Bangkok but there is one point all sides agree on -- a long, tough road lies ahead.

The five-day negotiations stretched past midnight on Friday before reaching a deal aimed solely at setting up more talks, the eventual goal to draft by the end of next year the most far-reaching treaty yet to battle global warming.

Rich and poor nations were at loggerheads, with developing countries especially suspicious of a Japanese-led proposal on industry standards and demanding greater aid to help them cope with the ravages of climate change.

The talks set up seven more sessions -- three this year and four next -- amid growing global concern that rising temperatures could put millions of people at risk by century's end through drought, floods and other extreme weather.

The next session meets in June in Bonn, Germany.

"We have 18 months to agree on a deal and it is probably one of the most important deals that mankind has negotiated," said Marcelo Furtado of Greenpeace Brazil.

"This is showing that we still lack political will and that is something we're very concerned about," he said.

The treaty due next year is meant to decide on an action plan after the Kyoto Protocol's obligations to slash greenhouse gas emissions expire at the end of 2012.

The United States, which snubbed Kyoto, and developing nations, which have no obligations under it, agreed at a conference in December in Bali, Indonesia, to negotiate to craft the next treaty.

Yvo de Boer, head of the UN body on climate change, acknowledged there were issues that each side was "very attached to" and said the Bangkok agreement created "bite-sized chunks" to allow smoother negotiations.

"It takes time to find a way out and they did," he said of the Bangkok negotiations.

De Boer said the Bangkok talks made genuine headway by approving a statement that lauds the burgeoning market in carbon emissions trading.

Under Kyoto, countries and companies can buy and sell credits to emit greenhouse gases so as to meet their own requirements.

De Boer said the statement sent a strong signal that the market would continue even after Kyoto's obligations run out.

"Businesses have been asking for clarity on this issue and now they have it, making it possible for them to plan their investments accordingly," de Boer told an early morning press conference.

The Bangkok talks, attended by more than 160 countries, also called for studies into how to slash emissions by airplanes and ships.

International transport accounts for a growing amount of emissions but was exempted under Kyoto obligations, in part because the sector is inherently difficult to classify under individual countries.

Talks stalled late in the conference as Japan pushed for an early discussion of a "sectoral" approach, in which each industry is given standards for energy-efficiency.

Japan's chief delegate, Kyoji Komachi, said he believed more countries came to understand Tokyo's position but that more work was needed.

Developing countries and environmentalists charged that Japan, whose emissions are rising amid an economic recovery, was trying to pass on the burden of emissions cuts to nations with less energy-efficient infrastructure.

"They didn't get the respect for their proposal that they wanted and instead half the rest of the world is now very suspicious as to what Japan's real agenda is," said Daniel Mittler, a climate expert at Greenpeace International.

Byron Blake, an envoy from Antigua and Barbuda which leads the bloc of developing nations, said the Japanese sectoral approach "would move away from the spirit of the convention and the protocol."

"The real negotiations are going to take place over the next two years," Blake said.

Greenpeace Brazil's Furtado said the at-times painstakingly slow negotiations in Bangkok to agree future meetings, or a 'workplan,' did not bode well for the future.

"If we took all these hours to agree on a workplan, one can only imagine what will happen when the real negotiations take place," he said.

"It is a worrisome indication of how these negotiations will develop."

earlier related report
Nations inch towards new climate deal
More than 160 nations were working Friday to clear the initial hurdle in drafting an ambitious new treaty on global warming, expected for the first time to consider rising emissions from planes and ships.

The five-day talks in Bangkok were winding up with negotiators setting a plan for how to reach a UN-backed goal of clinching a new deal by the end of 2009 to follow the Kyoto Protocol.

But negotiators were huddled in closed sessions hours after the conference was due to end amid disagreement on a Japanese proposal on industry standards that has upset developing countries, delegates said.

Major rich and poor nations are sharply divided on how to fight climate change, despite growing fears that rising temperatures could cause the extinction of plants and animals within the century and put millions of people at risk.

"What is lacking here is a sense of urgency. We are all victims of climate change," said Marcelo Furtado of Greenpeace Brazil.

According to a draft statement obtained by AFP, countries agree to study how rich nations can reduce emissions from aviation and shipping -- a rapidly growing source of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

The Kyoto Protocol required rich countries to slash emissions by an average of five percent by 2012 from 1990 levels but exempted aviation and shipping, as by nature they are difficult to classify as individual nations' responsibility.

In late-night negotiations, countries agreed to toughen language from an earlier text suggesting that industry could regulate itself, delegates said.

The European Union and Norway led the way to strengthen the language, facing opposition from countries with strong travel industries or remote locations such as Australia, Canada, Japan, Panama and Singapore, according to environmentalists monitoring the talks.

The Bangkok meeting is the first since a major conference in December in Bali, Indonesia, that set negotiations on what to do after rich countries' commitments under the Kyoto Protocol end in 2012.

It is officially tasked simply with setting a work plan to meet the Bali goals. A draft text sets four meetings next year until a final deal is reached in late 2009 in Copenhagen.

"They're setting the table for a meal and they haven't really digged in," said Alden Meyer, strategy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US pressure group, and a veteran watcher of environmental negotiations.

"That means there's no food fight, but that will come down the road when it gets serious," he said.

A key late sticking point was Japan's advocacy of a so-called "sectoral approach" on global warming in which each industry is judged separately on eco-friendliness.

Japan, which is far behind in meeting its Kyoto obligations, pressed late night Thursday into Friday for talks on the sectoral approach to be a priority next year, delegates said.

Developing nations fear that the sectoral approach makes Kyoto goals easier for rich countries to meet and could be used as a backdoor approach to require developing states to cut emissions.

US President George W. Bush backed out of Kyoto as one of his first acts in office, arguing that it was too costly and unfair by making no demands of emerging economies such as China.

Nearly all delegates agree that the toughest issue -- how much to slash gas emissions after 2012 -- will have to wait until after the United States has a new president in January.

All three major candidates seeking to succeed Bush have pledged tougher action on global warming.

"I think people are feeling optimistic that the next administration is going to engage in a different way than Bush has," Meyer said.

The European Union has proposed that rich nations slash gas emissions by 25 to 40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.

The United States has not backed a clear figure and has insisted along with several allies that developing countries make clear commitments in the next phase.

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