U.N. climate talks stall over emissions cuts by rich

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

AMSTERDAM -- Negotiators at U.N. climate talks, buoyed by U.S. promises to lead the fight against global warming, want industrial countries to pledge deeper cuts in greenhouse gases over the next decade. Environmental activists said Monday the talks in Bonn, Germany, have made little progress on two key issues: the carbon emissions targets to be adopted by rich countries and how to raise an estimated $100 billion a year needed to help poor countries adapt to climate change. The two-week round of talks conclude Wednesday and are to reconvene in June.

But delegates from 175 countries are likely to decide to add more sessions to an already hectic calendar of negotiations leading up to a decisive meeting in December in Copenhagen, Denmark, which is to adopt a new international climate change accord.

Developing countries want industrial nations to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases by at least 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. Some countries said even that cut won't eliminate the threat of rising sea levels and disastrous weather shifts affecting agriculture and water supplies, and suggested a 45 percent cut, said Antonio Hill, who monitors the talks for Oxfam International.

That is an increase from the range informally adopted in earlier negotiations, which called for a total cut of 25-40 percent by wealthy countries, leaving room for a deal near the lower end of that range.

Hill said the group of more than 130 developing countries, led by China, was "converging on the upper end of the range" at 40 percent, which environmental groups thought was fair and achievable.

The Greenpeace environmental group said the specific pledges from industrial countries so far add up to a 14 percent cut at most -- and possibly as little as 4 percent -- by 2020. That figure "is nowhere near enough what the science says is necessary to avert runaway climate change," the group said in a statement.

Greenpeace activist Kaisa Kosonen said the collapse this weekend of an ice bridge linking the Wilkins Ice Shelf to Antarctica was an "extremely alarming" warning that the climate is changing faster than predicted by U.N. scientists just a few years ago.

"We cannot change the science. We have to change the politics," she said.

The Copenhagen agreement is to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required 37 countries to cut emissions by a total 5 percent by 2012. The United States refused to take part in the Kyoto regime, calling it unfair since it made no demands on rapidly developing economies like China and India. The former Bush administration stayed aloof from talks on a successor accord.

President Barack Obama, however, reversed the Bush policy and pledged to become "fervently" engaged in the talks, which Hill said had energized the atmosphere at the conference.

"The developing countries say the U.S. is listening to them for the first time," he told reporters in Bonn. But delegates from the poorer countries also have cautioned that "the fresh air can go stale quite soon," he said.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature says that by 2020 about $145 billion a year will be needed by developing countries: $100 billion to help them build defenses and shift their economies against the effects of climate change; $40 billion to help them slow the growth of their own emissions; and $5 billion to insure themselves against disasters.

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