NUSA DUA, INDONESIA — As the United Nations climate conference here was drawing to its conclusion, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday acknowledged that the United States' goal of deleting specific emission reduction guidelines from a draft agreement had succeeded.
"Realistically, it may be too ambitious if delegations would be expected to be able to agree on targets of greenhouse gas emission reductions" here in Bali, he told reporters. "Practically speaking, this will have to be negotiated down the road."
The Bali meeting was convened to draw up a "road map" for negotiations on a new treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire in 2012. An early draft of the guidelines called for industrialized countries to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions 25% to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020, but the Bush administration has resisted the inclusion of any targets.
Chief U.S. negotiator Harlan L. Watson reiterated that position Wednesday. "The reality in this business is that once numbers appear in the text, it prejudges the outcome and will tend to drive the negotiations in one direction," he said.
Another contentious section of the draft called for global emissions to peak in 10 to 15 years and be reduced to at least half of 2000 levels by 2050, proposed requirements that have been vigorously opposed by China and India.
Both countries' emissions have more than doubled since 1990, and both want only voluntary standards for developing nations.
"If we want to take a voluntary approach for 70% of the world's emissions, I think that is just a nonstarter, it doesn't work," said John Baird, Canada's environment minister.
He argued that if wealthy countries were the only ones to accept emissions targets, pollution would simply be shifted to developing nations.
"We can close a steel mill today in Canada. But if we just import the steel from China, what will we have accomplished? Absolutely nothing," he said.
China's climate change ambassador, Yu Qingtai, said his country might eventually be willing to adopt caps, but only if it received major technology assistance from Western nations for developing cleaner energy processes. Such assistance has not been forthcoming, he added.
Indian representatives also called for technical assistance and said their nation's economy was too immature and fragile for them to accept emission caps.
"We are not ripe enough to make any binding commitments. We are a developing country," said N.N. Meena, junior environment minister.
Former Vice President Al Gore, who flew in to Bali on Wednesday after accepting his share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo this week for his contributions to the fight against global warming, said the United States was deliberately impeding progress here.
"The position of the administration in the U.S. right now appears to be to try to block any progress in Bali. I hope that will change," he said.
He did offer some optimism. "I know from experience," he said, "that when breakthroughs do occur, they usually happen in the last 48 hours."
Australia had a partial shift in its position Wednesday. The country has long argued against adopting the Kyoto treaty, which calls for 36 industrialized nations to reduce their emissions 5% below 1990 levels by 2012 -- in part because its emissions have grown by 26% since 1990.
But on Wednesday, newly elected Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd presented ratification papers for the treaty to Ban, eliciting a long round of applause from the delegates. Australia's signature leaves the U.S. as the only major industrialized country not to have ratified the protocol.
In his talk, Rudd chided the United States, whose emissions have risen more than 16% since 1990. "We expect all developed nations -- those within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol and those outside that framework -- to embrace comparable efforts in order to bring about the global outcomes the world now expects of us."
Zarembo reported from Nusa Dua and Maugh from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Dinda Jouhana in Nusa Dua contributed to this report.