02 December 2008

UN Climate Summit Begins; Tusk Calls for Compromise

By Alex Morales, Bloomberg News, December 1, 208

Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- The United Nations began 12 days of climate-change talks in Poland with a call from that nation’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, for countries to overcome their differences to help secure a treaty to fight global warming.

Delegates from 190 countries have gathered in the city of Poznan to begin hammering out details of a new agreement to be signed next December in Copenhagen. Before a treaty is approved, developed countries such as the U.S. and Japan will have to come to terms with poorer nations including China and India over how to share the burden of curbing heat-trapping emissions.

“The protection of the climate requires global solidarity,” Tusk told delegates. “All of us must show maximum understanding with each other, and must show patience with each other -- but this patience must be have its own horizon -- a common goal.”

Climate change is mainly caused by emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases from burning fossil fuels and other human activities, the United Nationssaid last year. Global warming threatens to cause floods and droughts and push thousands of species into extinction, the UN has forecast.

Environmentalists have said the financial crisis might detract from spending to fight global warming, and Tusk today urged delegates to surmount such concerns. Developing clean- energy technologies such as wind and solar power is more expensive than relying on existing coal and natural gas-fired power stations that release carbon dioxide.

Cyclones, Biodiversity Loss

The conference runs from today to Dec. 12 and was declared open shortly after 10 a.m. local time by Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar, who chaired the last major summit in December 2007 in Bali, Indonesia. He handed the chairmanship to his Polish counterpart, Maciej Nowicki.

“Huge droughts and floods, cyclones with increasingly more dramatic power, pandemics of tropical diseases, loss of biodiversity, armed conflict and mass immigration” are all possible due to global warming, Nowicki said. “Such a dramatic scenario for humankind in the 21st century is not a science fiction. It could come true.”

Outside the main entrance to the conference, the environmental group Greenpeace displayed sculpture 3 meters (10 feet) high showing Earth about to be engulfed by a carbon- dioxide “wave” made up of wood and coal.

While delegates in Poznan won’t agree on a detailed treaty text, it’s important they agree on a “shared vision,” Brice Lalonde, head of the French delegation for the first week of talks, told reporters. France speaks for the European Union as holder of the 27-nation bloc’s rotating presidency.

‘Shared Vision’

“What is the shared vision? It’s two 2 things,” Lalonde said. “One is having a goal of reduction of emissions and agreeing on that goal, and the other is how do we have a cooperation of all the nations of the world?”

The EU says developed countries should cut their collective greenhouse-gas emissions in 2020 by 30 percent from 1990 levels. Developing countries will need to keep their emissions as much as 30 percent below current predictions of “business-as-usual” growth by 2020, the bloc says.

Harlan Watson, who heads the U.S. delegation for the first week of talks, told reporters in Poznan it’s “unclear” whether a long-term goal for 2050 can be agreed in Poznan. He also said he didn’t think any numbers can be fixed for a 2020 target, including the possible 25 percent to 40 percent emissions cuts for developed countries that the EU and China have suggested.

“I don’t think many parties are ready to sign onto any range at this time,” Watson said. “My own opinion is that that’s going to occur in the end game” in Copenhagen.

“We’ve seen in past discussions of this that a number of parties aren’t prepared to agree to a long-term goal until other parties are coming forward with a 2020 or a near-term goal, and a number of parties, including the United states, are not willing to come forward with that yet.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in Poznan at amorales2@bloomberg.net.

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