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Climate summit on brink of agreement: top UN official

By Joydeep Gupta, IANS

Bali : UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon is to address the media at the climate change summit here Saturday morning, the strongest indication yet that the Dec 3-14 UN conference will not be able to come to an agreement on schedule.

But 40 ministers from major countries were on the “brink of agreement”, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said shortly before the midnight deadline passed.

Head of the Indian delegation Kapil Sibal was one of the 40 ministers still grappling behind closed doors on two key issues.

The first was whether the preamble to the Bali mandate – as it is now being called – would contain a reference to the conclusion reached by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its latest report, that industrialised countries needed to work towards reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) – that is leading to global warming – by 25-40 percent by 2020 compared to 1990.

The IPCC had said this would be necessary if global GHG emissions were to be halved by 2050, an essential requirement if global warming was not to exceed two degrees Celsius, beyond which catastrophic consequences were predicted.

The European Union had been very keen to keep this 25-40 percent reduction target as a benchmark in the Bali mandate, while the US had been equally keen to take it out.

Aides going in and out of the ministers’ meeting indicated late Friday night that the US had won.

Asked if the Bali roadmap would be a failure if the 25-40 percent 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.”

The second key issue still eluding agreement was to what extent industrialised and developing countries should mitigate their GHG emissions to fight global warming. According to de Boer, while there had been “good progress” on the extent of mitigation by industrialised countries, the extent of mitigation needed from developing countries was still being discussed.

India and other developing countries have repeatedly said they would not accept any legally binding caps on their GHG emissions, because that would retard economic development.

The UNFCCC chief said once these two issues were sorted out, two relatively minor issues would be left – the decision to end by 2009 the process of negotiations being started here, and the formal name and status of the body that would coordinate these negotiations.

As the support staff packed up and started partying at the Bali International Convention Centre, de Boer said other outstanding issues that had been resolved Friday evening included a review of the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol – the current international agreement to address climate change.

Other issues finalised were the setting up of an adaptation fund, technology transfer and financing to help developing countries fight global warming, de Boer added.

Asked why the Bali mandate had not been worked out despite two weeks of protracted negotiations, de Boer said: “It’s a unique process. We’re about to embark on something countries have not done for years. This has serious implications for national economic policies, so it is natural that countries are being careful.”

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.

That led to the series of closed-door meetings throughout Friday.