UN chief urges climate conference to break logjam

Ban 'disappointed' after last-minute dispute between developing countries, UN blocks progress at two-week summit.

cooling tower 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
cooling tower 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged delegates at a contentious climate conference to quickly approve a "good and strong" compromise plan to launch negotiations for a new global warming pact. A last-minute dispute between developing countries and the UN blocked progress at the two-week conference, despite a hard-negotiated compromise that resolved a dispute between the United States and Europe. "Frankly, I'm disappointed about the lack of progress," Ban told delegates. The two week-conference had been marked by a fierce battle between the EU, which had argued for explicit goals for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and the United States, which said targets should be determined by two years of talks. Humberto Rosa, Portuguese environment minister representing the EU, told delegates that the proposal had been brokered in a "good cooperative atmosphere." "It results from a compromise," said Rosa. "It was elaborated with the engagement of all the parties." Complete agreement, however, was stalled. In an unusually harshly worded statement, China accused the UN of deliberately calling on delegates to vote on the conference document even though developing nations were still negotiating for changes. India also objected to a part of the text. Ban and other dignitaries addressed the conference in an attempt to smooth over the differences. Talks on the document, which lays out the agenda for climate talks leading to a global warming pact taking effect at the end of 2012, had run through the night over how far future negotiations should go in trying to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. After closed-door talks, delegates reconvened in the morning to consider the compromise proposal. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was to join the talks, either to announce the launching of the "Bali Roadmap" negotiations or to help break any lingering impasse. The negotiating agenda set at Bali, and the results of two years of negotiations to follow, will help determine for decades to come how well the world can hold down its rising temperatures. Delegates had sparred for days over the wording of the conference's main decision document. The most contentious point was the EU's push to set a goal of reducing industrial nations' emissions 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Trying to break the deadlock, the conference president, Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar, proposed revised language dropping explicit mention of numbers while substituting a reference to a UN scientific report that suggested the 25-40 percent range of cuts. Witoelar's proposal provided a basis for a long-expected compromise, producing a relatively vague mandate for the two years of negotiations. As worded, his draft "Bali Roadmap" would not guarantee any level of binding commitment by any nation. On developing countries, including such big emitters as China and India, the draft would instruct negotiators to consider incentives and other means to encourage poorer nations to voluntarily curb growth in their emissions. UN climate chief Yvo De Boer said worldwide public opinion was forcing the more than 180 national delegations to find a way to agree. "I don't think any politician can afford to walk away from here," he told reporters. Asked if that included the United States, he responded, "Perhaps most of all the United States." The US has come under intense criticism in Bali, including from former US Vice President Al Gore, over US President George W. Bush's administration's opposition to mandatory emission cuts. But all sides acknowledged that negotiations cannot succeed without the involvement of the United States, the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases. The task before the annual UN assembly was to launch negotiations on a plan to bring deeper emissions reductions. It is to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which requires 37 industrial nations to cut output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The United States is the only major industrial nation to reject Kyoto, arguing it would hurt the US economy and also exempted fast-growing economies like China and India. Washington favors a voluntary approach to bring about emission reductions, rather than internationally negotiated and legally binding commitments. For years, the rest of the world has sought to bring the Americans into the framework of international mandates. At this point, however, many seem resigned to waiting for a change in White House leadership after next November's US election. In a series of landmark reports this year, the UN's network of climate scientists warned of severe consequences - from rising seas, droughts, severe weather, species extinction and other effects - without sharp cutbacks in emissions of the industrial, transportation and agricultural gases blamed for warming. To avoid the worst, the Nobel Prize-winning panel said, emissions should be reduced by 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The Kyoto Protocol nations have accepted that goal, and the numbers were written into early versions of the Bali conference's draft decision statement - not as a binding target, but as a suggestion in the document's preamble. The US delegation opposed inclusion of such numbers. American negotiator Harlan Watson said they would tend to "drive the negotiations in one direction." Environmentalists accused the US of trying to wreck future talks. "The United States in particular is behaving like passengers in first class in a jumbo jet, thinking a catastrophe in economy class won't affect them," said Tony Juniper, a spokesman for a coalition of environmentalists the conference. "If we go down, we go down together, and the United States needs to realize that very quickly."