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Bali roadmap remains elusive as US drags feet

The fundamental disagreement on the UN conference on climate change is whether to have a 25-40 per cent reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020.

world Updated: Dec 14, 2007 16:13 IST

Deadline after deadline came and went on the final day of Dec 3-14 UN conference on climate change with just a ray of hope that there would finally be a Bali roadmap to start negotiations for a post-2012 treaty to tackle global warming. India, meanwhile, was happy it had got its way on the deforestation issue.

By the middle of Friday afternoon, two fundamental disagreements remained on the drawing board. One was whether to have a 25-40 per cent reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), that lead to global warming, by 2020 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 reportedly, the US government delegation was still objecting, while the EU remained as committed to it as before.

This is the central disagreement at this year's UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol whose first period ends in 2012. The Bali summit is supposed to start a two-year negotiations process for a stronger treaty after 2012.

Germany's Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel came out of the closed meeting room in the middle of Friday afternoon to say the US delegation was starting to show some signs of "flexibility and compromise".

"The climate in the climate change convention has changed a bit," Gabriel said. "Now we're sure we can launch agreement."

That was the ray of hope to the thousands of aides, NGOs and media milling outside the various closed meeting rooms of the Bali International Convention Centre as the ministers grappled inside with what UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon had described on Wednesday as "the defining challenge of our age".

The 25-40 per cent 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," UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer pointed out.

Asked if the Bali roadmap would be a failure if the 25-40 per cent range was taken out, IPCC Chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri said: "I would not say it is a failure. I would be disappointed if it was not there. But the door to negotiations has not been closed."

Earlier, the negotiations had almost unravelled when the US government delegation threw into the ring an hour before midnight Thursday a completely new proposal that did away with legally binding reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) that are leading to climate change.

There were rapid developments through the night and the morning after 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, Tuvalu, Russia and Saudi Arabia were among the delegations that then came up with counter proposals in the early hours of Friday. While the Russian proposal wanted a range of 10-40 per cent reduction as opposed to 25-40 per cent, Saudi Arabia did not want any new commitments to be imposed 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.

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 on 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 head of delegation, Minister for Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Kapil Sibal, was in the group of 20.

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 themes 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 Friday afternoon.

There was broad agreement on setting up an 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.

Another contentious issue at the Bali summit has been how to help the deforestation that is contributing 20 percent of the GHG added to the atmosphere every year.

There was a proposal that developing countries that started afforestation projects and avoided deforestation would be paid for it. India had wanted to add conservation and sustainable management of forests to that list. Environment Secretary Meena Gupta had told IANS: "no country should lose out simply because it is increasing its forest cover".

In the middle of Friday afternoon, Indian negotiators in 'deforestation room' came out smiling. They told IANS that India's points had been accepted, while a counter-proposal from the US to add land use changes to the forestry concept had been rejected.

The text they had finalised still had to go to a larger group, but the delegates from the Indian government were hopeful that this would be just a formality.