Bali, Indonesia: About 190 nations met in Bali on Monday seeking a breakthrough to a new global pact to fight climate change by 2009 to avert droughts, heatwaves and rising seas that will hit the poor hardest.
“The world is watching closely,” Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar told delegates at the Dec. 3-14 meeting trying to bind outsiders led by the United States and China into a long-term UN-led fight against warming.
“Climate change is unequivocal and accelerating,” he told an opening ceremony in a luxury beach resort on the Indonesian island. “It is becoming increasingly evident that the most severe impacts of climate change will be felt by poor nations.”
After a year of intense climate diplomacy and bleak UN reports about the risks of climate change, 10,000 delegates will try to agree to launch negotiations on a broad UN pact by late 2009 to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
A new treaty is meant to widen the Kyoto Protocol, which binds 36 industrial countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 5% below 1990 levels by 2008-12. The United States and developing nations have no caps under Kyoto.
Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Climate Secretariat, said the rich had to agree to axe emissions from burning fossil fuels to encourage poor nations to start braking their own rising emissions even as they burn more energy to ease poverty.
“Bold action in the north can fuel clean growth in the south,” he said, urging a sharing of clean energy technologies such as solar or wind power. “I fervently hope you will make a breakthrough here in Bali by adopting a negotiating agenda.”
A senior Australian delegate told the conference his country was taking immediate steps to ratify Kyoto, earning a rapturous ovation from officials in the cavernous hall, many of whom stood to applaud Canberra’s dramatic U-turn.
Voters drove out the 11-year administration of former prime minister John Howard last month, leaving the United States as the only major industralised nation still refusing to back the accord.
“Don’t cook the planet,” environmental group Greenpeace said in a banner outside the conference centre. An activist dressed as a polar bear stood by an inflatable 6 metre (20 ft) high thermometer in sweltering heat.
Some delegates said UN climate talks were too sluggish after warnings by the UN climate panel this year that humans are stoking warming that will bring more droughts, erosion, hunger in Africa, water shortages and rising seas.
“Some progress has been made, but it is inadequate,” said Kenyan Environment Minister David Mwiraria. “The pace of climate change negotiations is out of step with the urgency required.”
Scientists say time is running out. To avoid the worst effects, the United Nations says global emissions need to peak by 2015 and be cut by 50% to 85% from 2000 levels by 2050.
The trick is to find the magic formula that gets every nation on board, from the biggest emitters such as the United States and China to the smallest and most vulnerable, such as tropical island states or sub-Saharan African nations.
President George W. Bush rejected Kyoto in 2001, saying it would damage the US economy and wrongly excluded developing nations from legally binding emissions cuts. But he has said the United States will contribute to a new global accord by 2009.
“One of the stumbling blocks...has been the fear of economic hardships,” Witoelar said. But he said costs would be “bearable”.
Climate change talks have been bogged down by arguments over who will pay the bill for cleaner technology and how to share out the burden of emissions curbs between rich and poor nations.
China and India, among the world’s top polluters and comprising more than a third of humanity, say it’s unfair and unrealistic for them to agree to targets, particularly as they try to lift millions out of poverty.
The European Union, which has pledged to cut emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, said that countries should start to look at hard new commitments in Bali.