Global warming pact set for 2009 after US backs down

Saturday, December 15, 2007

NUSA DUA, Indonesia (AFP) - A drama-filled 190-nation conference on Saturday set a 2009 deadline for a landmark pact to fight global warming after an isolated United States backed down on last-ditch objections.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hailed the so-called Bali Roadmap as a "pivotal first step" towards a new agreement for tackling the peril of climate change, after he had appealed to delegates to show flexibility.

Following gruelling all-night talks the conference launched a process to negotiate a new treaty that will take effect when the UN Kyoto Protocol's commitments expire in 2012.

The deal comes after a year of stark warnings from Nobel-winning scientists, who say that millions of people will be at risk of hunger, homelessness and disease by 2100 if temperatures keep rising at current rates.

The United States, the only major industrial nation to reject the Kyoto treaty, reached a compromise with the European Union (EU) to avoid mentioning any figures as a target for slashing greenhouse gas emissions.

The agreement instead only makes an indirect reference to scientists' warnings that the world must sharply cut back emissions to prevent what could be a catastrophic rise in temperatures.

But on an unscheduled 13th day of talks, the United States said it would not accept the statement as it wanted developing countries such as fast-growing China to make tougher commitments.

Senior US negotiator Paula Dobriansky said she had heard "many strong statements from many major developing country leaders on a greater role in helping to address urgently this global problem."

It "doesn't seem it's going to be reflected in our outcome here in the declaration," she said, telling the conference that the United States would reject the draft.

Dobriansky was loudly booed by other delegations. A US environmental activist representing Papua New Guinea said on the floor to rousing cheers: "If you're not willing to lead, please get out of the way."

After repeated verbal lashings, Dobriansky again took the microphone and said that Washington would "go forward and join consensus," to the cheers of the conference.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, an outspoken critic of President George W. Bush's climate policy, said he was ready to ask through his mobile telephone for Chancellor Angela Merkel to intervene with the White House.

"I had already typed the SMS after Dobriansky's first statement but then I was able to cancel it," Gabriel said.

"In the end, nobody wanted to have a failure," including the United States, Gabriel said. "We have achieved more than we could have expected previously, but it is less than what is needed to meet the urgency of the problem."

The agreement came after extraordinary scenes in which the head of the United Nations jetted in to make a last-ditch appeal, the UN's exhausted climate chief nearly broke down in tears and chairman Indonesia apologised abjectly for a disastrous procedural mix-up.

"The Bali Roadmap that has been agreed is a pivotal first step toward an agreement that can address the threat of climate change, the defining challenge of our time," a statement from the UN chief said.

Alden Meyer of the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists welcomed the deal.

"What we witnessed today was an incredible drama," he said "I've been following these negotiations for 20 years and I've never seen anything like it."

Hans Verolme of conservation group WWF accused the world of bowing to US pressure and removing a scientific punch needed to fight global warming.

But he also said the Bali talks would inspire environmentalists and activist nations for climate-change negotiations until the end of President George W. Bush's mandate in January 2009.

"We have learned a historic lesson. If you expose to the world the dealings of the United States, they will ultimately back down," he said.

As activists speculated on whether the US U-turn was premeditated, US delegates said they believed from the reaction to their initial statement that developed countries would be serious about climate change.

"There is no question that we have opened a new phase in moving forward together," said senior White House aide James Connaughton. "The time had come to start a new chapter."

Bush has argued that the Kyoto Protocol is unfair as it does not require fast-growing emerging economies such as China, the second largest emitter after the United States, to meet targeted emissions curbs.

In a bid to break the deadlock, the proposed document ditched European calls for an "ambition" of the rich world to cut its emissions by 25 to 40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.

And there was no mention of a target of halving global levels of greenhouse gases by 2050 -- a goal that scientists say is essential to limiting the warming to around two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

End of Post

Posted by Kaks at 9:33 AM  


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