Bangkok: Governments from nearly 200 countries will launch discussions on Monday on forging a global warming agreement, a process that is expected to be fraught with disagreements over how much to reduce greenhouse gases and which nations should adhere to binding targets.
The week-long United Nations climate meeting in Bangkok comes on the heels of a historic agreement reached in December to draft a new accord on global warming by 2009.
“The challenge is to design a future agreement that will significantly step up action on adaptation, successfully halt the increase in global emissions within the next 10-15 years, dramatically cut back emissions by 2050, and do so in a way that is economically viable and politically equitable worldwide,” said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is hosting the meeting.
All governments, including the US, agree emissions need to be reduced to avert an environmental catastrophe. But, the major polluters remain far apart over how best to achieve these goals.
Adding to the complexity of negotiations will be disputes over how best to help poor countries adapt to environmental changes by speeding up the transfer of technology and financial assistance from rich nations.
The European Union (EU) has proposed that industrialized countries slash emissions by 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020. The US, which is one of the world’s top polluters, has repeatedly rejected mandatory national reduction targets of the kind agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol a decade ago.
Japan, which is struggling to meet its emissions-cut obligations under the pact, is looking for less stringent conditions. It has talked of using 2005 rather than 1990 as the baseline and is campaigning for industry-based emission caps.
Under its plan, global industries such as steel or cement would set international guidelines for greenhouse gas emissions. Proponents, including the US, say that would help set a level playing field for competitive industries.
Critics, however, worry sectoral caps could be used to favour industries in richer countries with access to more advanced technology, while those in less developed nations would suffer.
Another contentious issue will be which countries will be required to make cuts under the new pact and how best to determine the level of reductions.
While the EU says the West has to take the lead in reducing emissions, the US argued it should not have to make cuts that would hurt its economy unless China and India agreed to the same.
“We’re willing to take on international binding targets as long as other major economies — both developed and developing — do so,” said US negotiator Harlan Watson.
China has argued that developed countries should be required to take the lead in reducing pollution because their unrestrained emissions over the past century contributed significantly to global warming.
De Boer has said requiring China and other developing countries such as India and Brazil to take on binding targets “is not realistic”.
Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said a compromise might be building on the agreement reached in Bali in Indonesia, where developing countries for the first time agreed to take voluntary actions that were “measurable, reportable and verifiable”.
Meyer said the West could provide the technology that would allow poor nations to reduce emissions in sectors such as steel and cement.