Leaders at U.N. Conference Warn Time Is Running Out for Climate Deal
September 28, 2009 - 5:25 AMU.N. climate talks kicked off Monday in Bangkok with leaders calling for delegates to break the deadlock over a global warming deal and warning that failure to act would leave future generations fighting for survival.
Negotiations on a new U.N. climate pact have been bogged down by a broad unwillingness to commit to firm emissions targets, and a refusal by developing countries to sign a deal until the West guarantees tens of billions of dollars in financial assistance -- something rich countries have so far refused to do.
"Time is not just pressing. It has almost run out," U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said, with a clock nearby showing there were 70 days until world leaders are scheduled to meet in Copenhagen to finalize a pact. "If we don't realize Plan A, the future will hold us to account," he said.
Some at the conference pointed to the tropical storm that tore through the Philippines over the weekend, leaving scores dead, as a glimpse into the kind of turbulent weather that could be unleashed by global warming.
"We are asking the negotiators to look outside these walls. They should realize that it is the people's lives at stake," said Dinah Fuentesfina, a Philippine activist from the Global Campaign for Climate Action Asia who was in Manila when the storm struck Saturday.
Connie Hedegaard, the Danish minister for climate and energy whose country will host the talks in December, told delegates the world was watching and urged them to build on the momentum that came out of last week's U.N. climate summit where 100 world leaders pledged their support for an agreement.
At the New York summit, President Barack Obama and China's president-- whose countries are the world's two biggest emitters, each accounting for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas pollution -- both vowed tough measures to combat climate change.
President Hu Jintao said China would generate 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources within a decade, and for the first time pledged to reduce the rate by which its carbon emissions rise. He did not give specific targets.
Japan's new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, whose nation generates more than 4 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, pledged to seek a 25 percent cut in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020.
The United States has offered much lower targets so far, with a House of Representatives bill proposing to reduce emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels -- or about 4 percent below 1990 levels -- by 2020. The Senate has yet to take up the climate bill.
"We have a tremendous task before us," Hedegaard said. "You and I face great expectations from citizens around the world. They want action on climate change and they want it now. If we fail to act, we will face dire consequences."
The two weeks of U.N. climate talks in the Thai capital, the second to last meeting before Copenhagen, are drawing some 1,500 delegates from 180 countries who will be tasked with boiling down a 200-page draft agreement to something more manageable. They also will be working to close the gap between rich and poor countries.
Most countries agree that temperature increases should be limited to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels of about 150 years ago -- a level believed necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. But so far, there is no consensus on how to do that.
Most industrialized nations have offered emissions cuts of 15 percent to 23 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, falling short of the 25 percent to 40 percent cuts scientists and activists say are needed to keep temperature increases below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius).
De Boer said negotiations were far behind where they should be, but he remained confident a deal would be reached in Copenhagen.
Artur Runge-Metzger, who heads the European Union delegation, called for more concrete proposals from China, India and other developing countries as well as commitment of funds from all parties.
"The glue that is going to keep this all together is finance," he said. "We need to see real convergence between parties (in Bangkok) before the end-game in Copenhagen."
David Victor, a political scientist who has written about climate negotiations since 1990, said it is unlikely a comprehensive treaty can be completed this year.
"The world economic recession has made most governments acutely aware of policies that could affect economic growth," he said. "And the range of issues on the table in Copenhagen is so large and complex and the time available to sort them out is very short."
Associated Press Writer Denis D. Gray contributed to this report.
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