14 December 2007

Bali summit teeters on the brink

Indonesia News.Net
Friday 14th December, 2007 (IANS)

Bleary-eyed ministers from many of the 187 countries attending the 12-day UN conference on climate change here were unable to finalise a Bali roadmap to start negotiations for a post-2012 treaty till afternoon Friday, the final day of the summit.

There were rapid developments through the night and the morning after the US government delegation attempted to derail the whole process of creating an international treaty shortly before midnight Thursday by throwing into the ring a completely new proposal that did away with legally binding reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) that are leading to climate change.

The US - the world's largest emitter of GHG by far - wanted to go by domestic regulations and incentives to reduce GHG emissions instead, a position summarily rejected by the developing countries and the European Union.

The group of 77 developing countries, EU, South Africa, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Tuvalu were among the delegations that then came up with counter proposals in the early hours of Friday. While the Russian proposal was supportive of the US position, Saudi Arabia did not want any new commitments on developing countries.

The proposals by the rest were quite opposite to what the US had suggested and attempted to restore the concept of a multilateral treaty that would impose legally binding GHG emission reduction commitments on industrialised countries while developing countries took measurable action to reduce emissions.

This is the central theme of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol whose first period ends in 2012. The entire idea of the Bali summit is to start a two-year negotiations process for a stronger treaty after 2012.

Senior members of the Indian government delegation said India supported both G-77 and South African proposals and would be happy if either was adopted.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said early Friday afternoon that a group of 20 countries had been set up with Australia and Argentina as co-chairs. This group would try to integrate the different proposals and finalise the Bali roadmap. Members of the Indian government delegation said that the head of delegation, Minister for Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Kapil Sibal, was in the group of 20.

This crucial group was stuck over two basic issues early Friday afternoon. One was whether to have a 25-40 percent reduction in GHG emissions by 2020 in comparison to 1990 as the goal in the Bali roadmap.
After strenuous objections by the US, this benchmark range was shifted to the preamble of the roadmap text, which is non-binding in UN treaties. But the US government delegation was reportedly still objecting, while the EU remained as committed to it as before.

The 25-40 percent range had come from the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which said this reduction would be necessary if the world was to halve its GHG emissions by 2050, the only way to keep global warming within two degrees. Catastrophic consequences lurk beyond that, scientists warn.

'So whether you write it down or not, the range is there as one of the stops on the way to 2050,' de Boer pointed out.

The second sticking point arose because some industrialised countries were still saying that developing countries should also accept legally binding GHG emission reduction targets, though all developing countries and the EU have always called this a non-starter, as developing countries needed to increase their energy consumption for development and because industrialised countries were responsible for almost all GHG in the atmosphere anyway.

Asked to name the industrialised countries making this demand, a senior member of the Indian delegation who came out of a closed meeting room for a while, identified the US, Canada, Japan and Australia.

According to de Boer, 'Occasionally there are still interventions from some delegations that would have been better made at the beginning of this two-week process rather than at the end.'

While the ministers grappled with the central theme of the Bali roadmap, other issues on how to help developing countries adapt to climate change that is already here more or less fell into place by early Friday afternoon.

There was broad agreement on setting up adaptation fund, to transfer clean technology to developing countries and to provide financial resources so that they could do their bit to address climate change.

There was still some disagreement over India's proposal that developing countries that conserve forests should also be paid like those countries that were taking up afforestation projects, since forests hold carbon dioxide - the main GHG - back from the atmosphere. But most delegates expected that to be resolved within a few hours.

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