Marathon attempts to craft a new strategy to tackle the peril of climate change were in deep trouble Thursday, with UN organizers warning there was less than a day to agree a deal.
|Environmental activists dress up as snails as they demonstrate at the UN Climate Change Conference in Nusa Dua, Indonesia on December 12 (Photo: AFP)|
As exhausted negotiators wrangled behind closed doors, green activists on the Indonesian resort island of Bali were hoping the arrival of climate campaigner Al Gore might save the talks from oblivion.
Environment ministers or their stand-ins from more than 180 countries have until Friday to agree a framework for tackling global warming past 2012, when pledges under the Kyoto Protocol expire.
But Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), warned that several interlocked issues threatened to derail the entire process.
"I am very concerned about the pace of things," said de Boer. "At twelve noon tomorrow (0400 GMT), the time is up."
The Bali talks do not themselves seek to draw up a new climate pact but to set down the parameters for further negotiations leading to such a deal.
One of the biggest problems, said de Boer, was over the scope of the "ambition" for the future negotiations.
The European Union, backed by developing countries, green groups and small island states, wants a reference by industrialized countries that a cut of 25-40 percent in their emissions by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, will be a guideline for those talks.
It says these figures are essential for showing rich nations are serious about making concessions to fix a problem that they created and have the most resources to address.
The United States is opposed, and delegates say its position is also shared by Japan, Canada and Russia.
Germany's environment minister alluded to the possibility that European countries might boycott a meeting in Hawaii next month of a Bush initiative gathering major carbon polluters if no shift in US police transpired.
"Without clear targets, there will be no major emitters meeting in January," said Sigmar Gabriel.
James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said that "every country has a negotiating position, not just the US."
Another area of dispute is over how future talks should address forest loss and help transfer smart, clean technology to developing countries poised to become major emitters.
Indonesia, as conference chair, is striving to get a deal on these problems among a small group of several dozen key countries.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg urged the conference to be guided by Gore and his co-winner of the 2007 Nobel peace award, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The top UN climate panel has warned of potentially catastrophic consequences if global temperatures continue to rise.
"The IPCC and its chair Dr (Rajendra) Pachauri have provided us with the facts and Al Gore has communicated the message in a way that we cannot ignore," Stoltenberg told the delegates.
"Together they have made 2007 a turning point in our history. The last remainder of any reasonable doubt about the threat of climate change has finally been put to rest."
The former US vice president, who became a tireless green activist after narrowly losing the race for the White House to George W. Bush in 2000, was scheduled to address a side event in Bali and meet key players in the climate debate.
Bush has bluntly rejected the Kyoto Protocol, arguing it is too costly and unfair as fast-growing emerging economies are under no obligation to slash carbon emissions.
"This is the most irresponsible action done by an American administration in our lifetime," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, the US-based environmental group.
In a report issued this year, the IPCC predicted that by 2100 global average surface temperatures could rise by between 1.1 C and 6.4 C (1.98 and 11.52 F) compared to 1980-99 levels, stoked by heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels.
More powerful storms, droughts, floods and rising sea levels are among the risks that will escalate in coming decades, threatening hunger and homelessness for millions, it said.