All nations on board as climate change summit opens

By Joydeep Gupta, IANS

Bali (Indonesia) : The world is without a pact beyond 2012 to address the scourge of climate change, as the European Union pointed out, even as the UN summit to address it opened in this picturesque island Monday with an effort to keep all countries together on the contentious issue of capping greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

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At the opening session of the 12-day summit, Australia drew the loudest applause from delegates of the 187 countries gathered by announcing it would ratify the current global pact to combat climate change – the Kyoto Protocol. That agreement – under which Australia will now have to cap its GHG emissions – comes to an end in 2012.

This leaves the US as the only industrialized country that has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. The head of the US delegation Harlan L. Watson said his country was “committed to the advancing negotiations for the post-2012 world” and “would not be a roadblock” at Bali.

Combating climate change has also become a contentious issue because developing countries are strongly opposed to any mandatory cap on GHG emissions as that may affect development of power generation and thus hamper their efforts to eradicate poverty.

But there was a clear effort Monday from all sides not to derail the negotiations at Bali before they had even started. Speaking on behalf of G-77 countries and China, the Pakistan delegation declared that developing countries would do their best to combat climate change and sought technical and financial help from industrialized countries to do so.

New president of the conference of parties that make up the United Nations Framework Convention on climate change (UNFCCC), Indonesia’s Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar, opened the summit by calling upon leaders around the world to show the political will needed to address climate change.

“The most severe effects of climate change are felt by the poor nations and the poorest in these nations,” Witoelar pointed out.

The key negotiation at the Dec 3-14 Bali summit – on legally binding caps to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that warm the earth’s atmosphere and lead to climate change – should be “started here and concluded by 2009”, the new president said.

“We have the science that tells us clearly how climate change is already affecting our lives and how it will worsen unless we address the issue urgently,” Witoelar pointed out.

“We also have the market (in carbon trading) that has shown how the issue can be addressed. All we need now is the political will. We have to show it here as the world is watching us closely.”

Reiterating this, head of the climate change in the European Union (EU) Artur Runge-Metzger said: “Time is rapidly running out before climate change assumes catastrophic proportions”.

Runge-Metzger pointed out that right now, there was no agreement ijn place to cap GHG emissions before 2012, and urged participants at the summit here to prepare a “Bali roadmap” by which negotiations for a post-2012 world could be completed by 2009. Watson of the US delegation endorsed this timetable.

The EU negotiator said “developing countries are the key after 2012” if global warming was to be limited to two degrees Celsius from the pre-industrial age level. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the UN’s body of scientists studying the issue – have said a rise of over 2-2.5 degrees may lead to unforeseen and catastrophic results.

Runge-Metzger said “the rest of the world would like to see a credible effort on the part of the US address climate change”. Watson responded to this by asserting: “The Kyoto Protocol regime has not really worked.”

But the US “does not want to harden our position right now,” Watson said when asked if the administration of President George W. Bush would ratify the Kyoto Protocol at any stage or any under any conceivable circumstance.

The EU and the US also differed on the question of mandatory GHG emission targets for developing countries after 2012, with Runge-Metzger saying the issue would be “for discussion over the next two years”, while Watson ruled it out completely.

The head of the US delegation was very clear that “development requires energy”. But, he added, the US would work with developing countries to develop cleaner energy technologies so that emissions of carbon dioxide – the major GHG – came down.

The outgoing president of the conference of parties, Kivutha Kibuana of Kenya, said earlier that adaptation to climate change should also move to the centre of the effort to address the menace as the effects of global warming were already being felt around the world, especially in tropical and sub-tropical countries, through falling agricultural output, water scarcity, more frequent and more serious droughts, floods and storms, sea level rise and a reduction in the world’s fish catch.

Kibuana rued that the clean development mechanism (CDM) that had been developed as part of the Kyoto Protocol to finance climate change combat by developing countries had by and large bypassed Africa.

He also said that transfer of green technologies from industrialized to developing countries had shown “limited progress, but the stage is now set for meaningful progress here”.

“It is essential that vulnerable developing countries are in a position to draw up plans to prepare for climate change impacts,” said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer. “It is also essential that agreement is reached on how the Kyoto Protocol’s Adaptation Fund is managed so that the Fund can begin financing real adaptation projects.”