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200 nations aim to bridge gaps over greenhouse emissions caps

Associated Press in Bangkok – Updated on Mar 31, 2008

Governments from nearly 200 countries will launch discussions today on forging a global warming agreement, a process that is expected to be fraught with disagreements over how much to reduce greenhouse gases and which nations should adhere to binding targets.

The week-long, United Nations climate meeting in Bangkok comes on the heels of an agreement reached in December to draft a new accord on global warming by next year.

Without a pact to rein in rising greenhouse gases in the next two decades, scientist say warming weather will lead to widespread drought, floods, higher sea levels and worsening storms.

“The challenge is to design a future agreement that will significantly step up action on adaptation, successfully halt the increase in global emissions within the next 10 to 15 years, dramatically cut back emissions by 2050, and do so in a way that is economically viable and politically equitable worldwide,” said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The European Union environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, said the Bangkok meeting would determine the willingness of all parties to act quickly.

He stressed the need for an aggressive, long-term agreement “to prevent climate change from reaching dangerous levels”.

All states, including the US, agree emissions need to be reduced to avert an environmental catastrophe. But the major polluters remain divided over how best to achieve these goals.

“We’re willing to take on international binding targets as long as other major economies … do so,” said US negotiator Harlan Watson.

“The primary concern is the so-called leakage issue,” Dr Watson said. “If you take commitments and you have energy-intensive industries, they might want to move to other countries which don’t have commitments.”

China has argued that developed countries should be required to take the lead in reducing pollution because their unrestrained emissions over the past century contributed significantly to global warming.

Mr de Boer has said that requiring China, India and Brazil to take on binding targets was not realistic.

“Developing countries see that as problematic,” he said. “The problem of climate change … is a result of rich countries’ emissions. The historic responsibility of this problem lies with industrial nations.”

Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said a compromise might be building on the agreement reached in Bali where developing countries for the first time agreed to take voluntary action that was “measurable, reportable and verifiable”.

Mr Meyer said the west could provide the technology that would allow developing nations to reduce emissions in sectors like steel and cement. “Now you have this new animal agreed to in Bali. That is a big deal,” he said. “You’re opening negotiating space for new tools and mechanisms that will help developing countries bend down their emission curves while achieving sustainable development strategies.”

Adding to the complexity of negotiations will be disputes over how best to help poor countries adapt to environmental changes by speeding up the transfer of technology and financial assistance from rich nations.

The EU has proposed that industrialised countries cut emissions by 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. The US has repeatedly rejected mandatory national reduction targets of the kind agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol a decade ago.

Japan, which is struggling to meet its emissions obligations under Kyoto, is looking for less stringent conditions this time around. It has talked of using 2005 rather than 1990 as the baseline for reductions and is campaigning for industry-based emission caps.

Under its plan, global industries such as steel or cement would set international guidelines for greenhouse gas emissions. Proponents, including the United States, say that would help set a level playing field for competitive industries.

Critics, however, worry sectoral caps could be used to favour industries in richer countries with access to more advanced technology.

Timetable to save the planet

What will be achieved in Bangkok?
Bangkok’s main task is to agree a programme for the next two years – the details may show how urgently governments want to tackle climate change. After Bangkok, delegates will meet three more times this year.

What’s wrong with the Kyoto Protocol?
Kyoto obliges 37 developed nations to cut emissions by 2012. The Bangkok talks will be about widening action. Every developed country except the US has ratified Kyoto. The US presidential candidates say they are committed to stepping up action.

But Kyoto runs until 2012. Why the hurry?
The United Nations says that a new treaty needs to be in place by the end of 2009 to give national parliaments time to ratify before Kyoto runs out. A worry is that it took two years to negotiate Kyoto – and then eight to get it ratified. And investors need time – a power company trying to decide whether to build a coal-fired plant or a wind farm wants to know the rules on greenhouse gases.


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