13 December 2008

UN talks set programme to a landmark climate pact in '09

AFP, 13 December 2008

POZNAN, Poland (AFP) — A planet-wide forum on climate change Saturday ended with a working schedule which is designed to formulate a treaty aimed at meeting the darkening threat to mankind from greenhouse gases.

In the pre-dawn hours, the 192-member UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) set down a programme of work that, it declared, would conclude with a historic pact in Copenhagen next December.

Taking effect after 2012, the deal will set down unprecedented measures for curbing emissions of heat-trapping carbon gases and helping poor countries in the firing line of climate change.

"Poznan is the place where the partnership between the developing and developed world to fight climate change has shifted beyond rhetoric and turned into real action," declared Polish Environment Minister Maciej Nowicki, who chaired the marathon.

UNFCCC members will submit proposals for the treaty's text in the early months of 2009.

By June, these will then be condensed from what is likely to be a massive document into a blueprint for negotiations.

Friday's agreement sets the stage for a year-long process revolving around two big issues: who should make the biggest sacrifices on curbing greenhouse gases, and how to beef up support for poor countries exposed to climate change.

The 12-day meeting ended with a two-day ministerial-level gathering that, despite flourishes of rhetoric, failed to make any big advance on these core issues.

It opened the way to launching a so-called Adaptation Fund for helping poor countries that are most exposed to rising sea levels, drought and floods.

But it yielded no accord on how to boost its coffers to the scale of billions of dollars per year -- a level that many experts say will be needed, just a few decades from now.

But the arduous process was given a boost in morale by the adoption at a European Union (EU) summit in Brussels of a deal to slash EU emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

Delegates in Poznan had held their breath, fearful that backsliding by the EU would fatally sap momentum in the UN track.

The final day of the Poznan talks was powerfully spurred by green guru Al Gore, 2007 co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and by US Senator John Kerry, acting as pointman for President-elect Barack Obama, who has vowed to root out the heart of George W. Bush's policies on climate change.

"Our home, Earth, is in danger," Gore told a packed hall.

"We are moving towards several tipping points that could within less than 10 years make it impossible to avoid irretrievable damage to the planet's habitability for human civilisation -- unless we act quickly."

But, said Gore, momentum was at last building -- in the United States, Europe, China, Brazil and elsewhere -- towards a treaty in Copenhagen that could roll back the threat.

The EU's so-called "20-20-20" deal seeks to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, make 20 percent energy savings and bring renewable energy sources up to 20 percent of total energy use.

It is the most ambitious scheme of any major economy for dealing with climate change and energy use.

It throws down the gauntlet to the United States, Japan and other rich countries to follow suit in next year's negotiations.

Green groups blasted the outcome at Poznan.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) describing it as a "major missed opportunity" to thrash out concessions on slashing greenhouse-gas emissions.

"This was a moment in time when real leaders would have stepped up and taken the positions that would combat the economic and climate crisis at the same time," WWF said.

Scientists point the finger for climate change at human influence, especially the burning of fossil fuels in power stations, factories and by cars, as well as through deforestation and agriculture.

Gigatonnes of greenhouse gases spew each year into the Earth's atmosphere, acting like an invisible blanket that stores solar heat and changes the climate system.

By century's end, sea levels will rise, deserts will grow and storms floods and droughts could become more frequent.

Even though the peril now seems clear, addressing its source carries an economic cost, because it implies a switch away from fossil fuels that remain the backbone of the world's energy supply.

This is why the negotiations in 2009 are likely to be tense.

Rich countries acknowledge their historic role in the problem but say emerging powers like China and India must also slow their surging carbon pollution.

Developing nations argue that the industrialised world should lead by example, and foot the bill for clean-energy technology and coping with the impact of global warming

Copyright © 2008 AFP. All rights reserved

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