Friday, December 14, 2007

Will a new climate change deal work?

The United Nations climate talks in Bali remain deadlocked. The talks are aimed at establishing targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions when the Kyoto Protocol targets expire in 2012, and the UN wants developed countries to commit to cuts of 25-40% from 1990 levels by 2020. However, the UN says the US team is blocking progress.

European officials at the conference are threatening that they will boycott a US-led climate summit next month, unless the US changes its position on greenhouse gas emissions. The EU is trying to accelerate progress at the talks, which are proceeding so slowly that the head of the UN climate convention said he was "very concerned."

President Bush established the group earlier this year. Some observers view it as an attempt to undermine the UN process.

The US says it leads the world in developing clean technologies, and is misunderstood. It claims that there is no need to resolve all climate issues in Bali, since Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky said the Bali conference was designed to be the start of a two-year negotiating process leading to a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol.
Besides, Canada and India are also among nations opposing attempts to set binding targets for reducing emissions.

Nevertheless, Al Gore called on the US to change its stance. He said, "My own country, the US, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali."

Observers from environmental groups are more concerned that the US/Canadian stance could mean the Bali summit fails to agree on the need for binding targets by 2009. The UN shares those concerns as well. Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), worried that if all UN countries cannot manage to get the work done in time on the future, then the whole house of cards basically falls to pieces.

Apart from emission cuts, outstanding issues include the transfer of clean technologies to developing countries, and ensuring a sustainable flow of funds to the poorest nations to help protect their economies and societies against the impacts of climate change.

The US/Canada bloc also wants major developing countries to accept that they will have to cut emissions too. Developing country delegates feel that Western countries are trying to distract attention from their historical responsibility for climate change and from the failure of many nations inside the Kyoto Protocol to make meaningful progress towards its targets.

Yu Qingtai from the Chinese delegation pointed out that richer countries were "dodging their moral responsibility" to provide the developing world with clean technologies. "They either view this as a gesture of charity or generosity, not as a moral or political obligation," he said.

The Bali climate change meeting is scheduled to close today, but since the US is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, and most parties recognize that climate change talks without the US would be meaningless.

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