/ 4 April 2008

Air, sea travel under scrutiny for new climate deal

More than 160 nations agreed in Bangkok on Friday to consider how to reduce rapidly growing greenhouse gas emissions from air and sea travel, in an early move towards a new global-warming treaty.

The accord was the first hurdle in succeeding the Kyoto agreement in the fight against climate change and followed last-minute haggling over a Japanese proposal that poor states viewed with suspicion.

Hours after the five-day conference had been due to finish in Bangkok, negotiators were still huddled in closed sessions. Chief United States delegate Harlan Watson said that the developing nations were tabling more ideas.

Leaders in the developing bloc oppose Japan’s proposal to hold talks early in the process on the so-called ”sectoral approach”, in which each industry is judged separately on eco-friendliness.

”The Japanese proposal is the main stumbling block. This meeting should be about saving the planet, not the Group of Eight summit,” said Daniel Mittler, climate and energy adviser for Greenpeace International.

Japan, which is far behind in meeting its Kyoto obligations as its economy recovers from a recession, hopes to shape the next global-climate treaty when it hosts a Group of Eight summit in July.

The country’s chief negotiator, Kyoji Komachi, said Tokyo was seeking only a discussion of the sectoral idea and was ready to commit major resources to help developing nations fight global warming.

Rich and poor countries are divided on how to tackle the issue, despite growing fears that rising temperatures could put millions of people at risk by the end of the century.

Developing nations fear the sectoral approach makes Kyoto easier to meet for rich countries, which already have cleaner technology, and that it could be a backdoor way to require them for the first time to cut emissions.

Following Friday’s discussions, parties to the 1997 UN Kyoto Protocol approved by consensus a statement promising to explore ways of curbing the harmful gases that planes and ships spew into the atmosphere.

The global transport industry accounts for about 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but air and sea travel were excluded from emissions cuts promised by rich nations under the Kyoto pact.

US President George Bush backed out of Kyoto as one of his first acts in office, arguing that it was too costly and unfair by making no demands of emerging economies such as China.

The protocol required rich countries to slash emissions blamed for global warming by an average of 5% by 2012 from 1990 levels. But it exempted aviation and shipping, two rapidly growing sources of global warming.

However, according to a draft statement obtained by Agence France-Presse, countries agreed to study how rich nations can reduce emissions from these two industries.

The Bangkok meeting is the first since a major conference in December in Bali, Indonesia, which agreed to launch negotiations on what to do after rich countries’ commitments under the Kyoto Protocol end in 2012.

The talks are officially tasked with simply setting a work plan to meet the Bali goals. A draft text sets four meetings next year until a final deal is reached in late 2009 in Copenhagen.

”They’re setting the table for a meal and they haven’t really digged in,” said Alden Meyer, strategy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US pressure group and a veteran watcher of environmental negotiations.

”That means there’s no food fight, but that will come down the road when it gets serious,” he said.

Nearly all delegates agree that the toughest issue — how much to slash gas emissions after 2012 — will have to wait until after the US has a new president in January.

All three major candidates seeking to succeed Bush have pledged tougher action on global warming.

”I think people are feeling optimistic that the next administration is going to engage in a different way than Bush has,” Meyer said.

The European Union has proposed that rich nations slash gas emissions by 25% to 40% by 2020 from 1990 levels.

The US has not backed a clear figure and has insisted that developing countries make clear commitments in the next phase. — AFP