UN official says climate change pact on troubled path
Singapore (AFP) April 22, 2008
Agreement on a new climate change treaty could run the risk of failure at talks in Copenhagen next year if governments do not narrow their differences, a top UN environmental official said Tuesday.
The result of this month's talks in Bangkok to discuss commitments to a road map for battling global warming did not bode well in the run-up to the 2009 meeting, said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
The Bangkok talks were a follow-up to a UN-brokered global gathering in the Indonesian resort island of Bali in December aimed at drawing up a plan for an ambitious treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
"Two weeks ago in Bangkok, governments met again to once again discuss the Bali road map... I personally believe that that event was a warning sign," Steiner said in a speech to the Business for the Environment conference in Singapore.
At the Bangkok talks, countries simply reiterated their positions on cutting harmful greenhouse gas emissions, he said, describing this as "at best disconcerting, and worse, a sign that we are in trouble."
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 Bangkok talks set up several more sessions before the Copenhagen meeting.
Global concern is mounting that rising temperatures could put millions of people at risk by century's end through drought, floods and other extreme weather.
The next talks are in June in Bonn, Germany, and a session is to take place in Singapore in August.
Steiner warned there was as much a risk of failure in Copenhagen as success.
The meeting could lead to "one of the greatest failures of public policy consensus in the history of mankind" but it could also reach "an extraordinary agreement" among nations, he said.
Steiner called on the business community to play a bigger role in giving momentum to the process, which faces lacklustre political will.
The Kyoto Protocol, on average, required industrialised nations to reduce their emissions 5.2 percent below their 1990 level between 2008 and 2012.
Rich and poor nations now generally agree that the world must take action to halt climate change, but they are divided on how to go about it.
The United States, which never ratified the Kyoto deal, is pushing for fast-developing nations like India, China and Brazil to sign up to binding emissions cuts. The European Union wants industrialised countries to take the lead.
"I'm not saying that Bangkok is a sign that we cannot reach it. But in terms of laying down the pathway with greater confidence, Bangkok did not strengthen our confidence," Steiner told AFP on the sidelines of the conference.
With only 17 months away from the Copenhagen meeting, Steiner said time could be running out.
"I remain convinced that nation states have no alternative. The question is what pressure, what mechanism, what incentives can we find to elevate the ability of the international community to cooperate on climate change," he said.
This is where business can play a role, by seizing the initiative and investing in energy-efficient technology, he said.
More than 500 business executives, government officials, environmentalists and others from 30 countries have gathered for the two-day Business for the Environment conference.
It was organised by the UNEP and the UN's Global Compact, an initiative which brings companies together with the UN and other agencies to support environmental and social principles.
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