UN climate summit enters final stretch

Rich and poor nations wrangled over the need for mandatory caps on greenhouse gases and ways to help the most vulnerable adapt to rising temperatures as a United Nations climate conference entered its crucial final week.

Delegates and environmentalists said on Monday they were satisfied so far with the progress, even though the United States and China, the world’s two biggest polluters, were refusing to agree to binding emissions targets.

”The overall atmosphere … is constructive,” said Hans Verolme, director of WWF’s global climate-change programme. ”All substantial issues are on the table, from mitigation to adaptation and deforestation to technology.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Nobel laureate Al Gore and other prominent figures begin arriving this week to help give final shape to a ”Bali road map” that will eventually lead to a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

The 1997 climate pact, which was rejected by the US, commits three dozen industrialised countries to cut their greenhouse gases by a relatively modest average of 5% below 1990 levels in the next five years.

Experts say a new deal will have to go further if the world wants to head off the potentially catastrophic effects of rising temperatures, from collapsing ice sheets to worsening droughts, flooding and diseases.

Targets

The main negotiating text for the December 3 to 14 meeting on Bali mentions targets for reducing the amount of pollutants pumped into the atmosphere, but in a non-binding way.

Its preamble notes the widely accepted view that industrial nations’ emissions should be cut by 25% to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020, and that global emissions need to peak in the next 10 to 15 years and then be dramatically slashed to half of 2000 levels by mid-century.

Delegates say there is little chance those numbers will make it into the final document, but their very inclusion in the draft is expected to spark renewed, fierce debate in the days ahead.

”This is the test to watch this week,” said Jennifer Morgan, spokesperson for Climate Action Network, which is representing all the environmental groups at the Bali meeting. ”This will show you whether governments are serious or not, whether they support these types of emissions cuts.”

The US said last week it would come up with its own plan to cut global-warming gases by mid-2008, and would not commit to mandatory caps in the coming days.

China, which is increasingly turning to coal-powered electricity plants and factories to help fuel its booming economy, has also stood firm in saying it would not agree to binding targets.

It says the West is responsible for rising temperatures, because it has been pumping climate-changing gases into the air for centuries.

Developing-country delegates at the assembly, meanwhile, were urging wealthy nations to speed the transfer of climate-friendly technologies, which would help them reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases blamed for rising global temperatures.

A joint US-European Union proposal to liberalise trade in green goods and services such as solar panels, however, was criticised by Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim because it omitted ethanol. — Sapa-AP

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