UN talks set programme to landmark climate pact in '09
Poznan, Poland (AFP) Dec 12, 2008
The world's forum for tackling climate change on Friday agreed a programme designed to culminate in a treaty that would expunge the darkening threat to mankind from greenhouse gases.
The 192-member UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) set a schedule of work in 2009 designed to conclude with an historic pact in Copenhagen next December.
Taking effect after 2012, the envisioned deal will set down unprecedented measures for curbing emissions of heat-trapping carbon gases and helping poor countries in the firing line of climate change.
UNFCCC members will submit proposals for the treaty's text in the early months of 2009.
By June, these will then be condensed from what is likely to be a massive document into a blueprint for negotiations.
Further decisions were awaited Friday by members of the UNFCCC's Kyoto Protocol -- the first global deal for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions -- that would complement the work programme.
Friday's agreement sets the stage for a year-long process revolving around two big issues: who should make the biggest sacrifices on curbing greenhouse gases, and how to beef up support for poor countries exposed to climate change.
The December 1-12 talks in Poznan, Poland ended with a two-day ministerial-level gathering that failed to make any big advance on these core issues.
But the arduous process was given a boost in morale by the adoption at a European Union summit in Brussels of a deal to slash EU emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
Delegates in Poznan had held their breath, fearful that backsliding by the EU would fatally sap momentum in the UN track.
The final day of the Poznan talks was powerfully spurred by green guru Al Gore, 2007 co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and by US Senator John Kerry, acting as pointman for President-elect Barack Obama, who has vowed to root out the heart of George W. Bush's policies on climate change.
"Our home, Earth, is in danger," Gore told a packed hall.
"We are moving towards several tipping points that could within less than 10 years make it impossible to avoid irretrievable damage to the planet's habitability for human civilisation -- unless we act quickly."
But, said Gore, momentum was at last building -- in the United States, Europe, China, Brazil and elsewhere -- towards a treaty in Copenhagen that could roll back the threat.
"Yes, we can!" Gore said to a standing ovation, borrowing Obama's campaign slogan.
The EU's so-called "20-20-20" deal seeks to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, make 20 percent energy savings and bring renewable energy sources up to 20 percent of total energy use.
It is the most ambitious scheme of any major economy for dealing with climate change and energy use.
It throws down the gauntlet to the United States, Japan and other rich countries to follow suit in next year's negotiations.
Scientists point the finger for climate change at human influence, especially the burning of fossil fuels in power stations, factories and by cars, as well as through deforestation and agriculture.
Gigatonnes of greenhouse gases spew each year into the Earth's atmosphere, acting like an invisible blanket that stores solar heat and changes the climate system. By century's end, sea levels will rise, deserts will grow and storms floods and droughts could become more frequent.
Even though the peril now seems clear, addressing its source carries an economic cost, because it implies a switch away from fossil fuels that remain the backbone of the world's energy supply.
This is why the negotiations in 2009 are likely to be tense.
Rich countries acknowledge their historic role in the problem but say emerging powers like China and India must also slow their surging carbon pollution.
Developing nations argue that the industrialised world should lead by example, and foot the bill for clean-energy technology and coping with the impact of global warming.
earlier related report
After tough negotiations, EU leaders agreed to the world's broadest binding climate package, which French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the current holder of the EU presidency, called "historic."
Yet an agreement was reached only because of concessions to Eastern European member states as well as Germany and Italy, which had argued against certain elements of the plan, saying they would cripple their economies.
European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said the agreement confirms Europe's determination to fight climate change.
"EU leaders have given their green light to a series of measures that puts Europe firmly on the road to becoming a sustainable, low-carbon economy," he said Friday in the western Polish city of Poznan, where delegates from 189 nations are wrapping up a U.N. climate conference aimed at paving the way for a global deal.
Yvo de Boer, the United Nations' top climate official, said the EU deal "sends a clear message to the negotiations in Poznan and onwards to Copenhagen" -- where a U.N. climate summit takes place in December 2009 -- "that difficult roadblocks can be overcome and resolved."
With the United States under Barack Obama expected to vigorously join global climate-protection efforts starting next year, the green light given now to the EU's so-called 20-20-20 goals comes at the right time, observers say.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, in a reaction to the Brussels deal, said Europe was ready to lead global climate efforts together with the United States.
But environmental groups said the EU had watered down its ambitious targets in order to please big business.
"Millions of poor people have been left in danger because EU leaders bowed to business lobby pressures and faltered at an historic moment," said Elise Ford of the international aid group Oxfam.
The World Wide Fund called the EU "feeble," and the Climate Action Network found this Friday to be a "very dark day for EU climate politics."
The EU held on to its goal to cut greenhouse gases by 20 percent, boost the share of renewables in the energy mix to 20 percent and reduce energy consumption by 20 percent -- all by 2020. It also preserved a pledge that it would shoot for a 30-percent emissions cut if the world's other big polluters agree to their own binding reductions at the end of the U.N. process, at a summit to be held in Copenhagen at the end of 2009.
But individual parts of the package had to be changed to accommodate the wishes of Germany, Europe's largest economy, as well as Poland and Italy, which both had threatened to veto the deal if their demands were ignored.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi won concessions for European industries, after Merkel last week already managed to soften emissions-reduction targets for Europe's car sector.
Berlin had feared that energy-heavy German companies would suffer when competing with rivals from countries that haven't signed up for a binding climate deal. These firms now will receive free emissions permits under the EU's emissions trading scheme if they meet certain benchmarks for using efficient technology.
Several Eastern European nations, led by Poland, had argued an unchanged package would cripple their economies. They feared a flood of massive costs because of their overwhelming reliance on dirty coal as an energy source.
They now will receive 70 percent of their emissions permits for free and have more time to adapt their power sectors to the auctioning of permits under the trading scheme.
The decision has to be signed by the European Parliament before it can enter into force.
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Poznan, Poland (UPI) Dec 12, 2008
Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore Friday called on world leaders to become more involved in hammering out a global climate deal, amid hopes that the United States will take the lead starting next year.
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