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Climate deal gives room to all at the table

December 16, 2007|Alan Zarembo and Thomas H. Maugh II | Times Staff Writers

NUSA DUA, INDONESIA — The landmark global warming document agreed to on Saturday at a United Nations climate conference here was weakened in furious last-minute negotiations, but still made important progress in two key areas.

Under pressure from the United States, the document abandoned setting any firm goal for worldwide emissions reductions and left open the possibility that industrialized countries could avoid individual caps on their emissions.

Nonetheless, for the first time, it enrolled the developing world in efforts to reduce global emissions and pushed those nations to consider ways to limit their output of greenhouse gases.

More important, the agreement kept the United States -- long considered the biggest roadblock to unified action in curbing global warming -- at the negotiating table and offered hints that the country might finally be willing to join international efforts.

"At long last, the warnings from the world's leading scientists are no longer being totally ignored by the Bush administration," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming. "When every other world leader is calling for action, not even this administration can refuse to listen."

The unanimous approval of the document by thousands of delegates meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali now sets the "road map" for two years of negotiations to create a formal climate treaty to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The next phase of talks is scheduled to begin in April and, ideally, conclude in Copenhagen in late 2009.

The document was almost not completed.

A primary sticking point during the last week was the inclusion of tough emissions targets recommended by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, in a series of reports issued this year, and pushed hard by the European Union.

Working through the night Friday, negotiators reached a compromise that seemed to pave the way for acceptance of the document. The targets -- which include a 25% to 40% reduction in emissions by industrialized countries by 2020 and a 50% reduction in overall emissions worldwide by 2050 -- were eliminated from the text and replaced with a footnote referring to a broader range of options in the IPCC reports.

Some delegates called the compromise weak, but it was, at least, strong enough to win the Europeans' support. The United States also seemed pleased.

But even the watered-down document ran into trouble when it reached the assembly floor Saturday for ratification, with India objecting that the draft did not require industrialized nations to help developing countries control their emissions with technology and funding.

As had occurred so often during the week, the blame for this deficiency was laid at America's doorstep.

The Indian position reflected one of the central themes of developing nations at the meeting: that the United States and other wealthy countries had caused global warming with their profligate use of energy and now expected less-developed countries to curb their own industrialization to prevent the problem from getting worse.

The assembly was suspended temporarily while delegates worked out alternative language to reflect the developing nations' concerns -- language that was strongly supported by the EU.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who returned for the extended session, told the delegates he was "disappointed" in the delay and called on them to reach a compromise.

Tensions ran high. At one point, the U.N.'s top climate official, Yvo de Boer, was attacked by China for a procedural error, and left the room fighting back tears.

U.S. delegate Paula Dobriansky said that the United States could not accept the compromise language and argued that developing countries were not offering enough to curb their emissions.

The room erupted in a chorus of boos.

Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa's minister of environmental affairs and tourism, called the U.S. comments "most undeserved and without any basis," given the developing world's concessions during the talks. He added: "We would have liked to see a much stronger commitment from the United States."

Kevin Conrad, a delegate from Papua New Guinea, drew applause when he told the U.S. delegation: "If you cannot lead, leave it to the rest of us. Get out of the way."

In a stunning and unexpected reversal, Dobriansky backed down moments later.

"The United States is very committed to this effort and just wants to really ensure that we all will act together," she told the gathering. "And with that, Mr. Chairman, let me say to you, we will go forward and join consensus today."

She said later that the outrage in the developing world convinced the U.S. delegation that those countries were ready to accept the challenge of restricting emissions growth.

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