Climate change: Kyoto Poker to start in earnest
AFP, 2 September 2007 - Efforts to accelerate action against the world's
looming climate crisis begin in earnest this month, unfolding against a
background of deepening scientific concern but entrenched political
Two meetings may decide whether a key conference, taking place in Bali,
Indonesia this December, will at last smash the logjam over how to step
up cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions or be a landmark in fiascos.
The Bali meeting, gathering members of the UN Framework Convention on
Climate Change (UNFCCC), will strive to set a roadmap for negotiating
global pollution cuts that will be implemented after 2012, when the Kyoto
Protocol runs out.
The clock is ticking fast. The next new treaty must be completed by 2009
or 2010 at the very latest, so that all signatories can ratify it in
So far, the post-2012 haggle has been messy, sometimes nightmarishly so.
Progress has often been tortoise-like as key players baulk and quibble or
wait for others to declare their hand.
"It's not even a coalition of the willing," a UN source wearily told AFP
on Friday, as a session in Vienna of Kyoto parties dragged into extra
For scientists, the "greenhouse effect" -- a warming of Earth's surface
as solar heat is trapped by carbon gas from fossil fuels -- poses an ever
In three reports this year, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC) warned that by the end of the 21st century, the warmer
world faced a heightened probability of water shortage, drought, flood
and severe storms, boosting the risk of malnutrition, water-borne disease
Even though governments acknowledge the gravity of the threat, they seem
unable to reach any consensus about how to tackle it.
Reducing greenhouse-gas emissions carries an economic price, for it
entails a drive for greater energy efficiency and a switch to cleaner
fuels. There is is little willingness for self-sacrifice if others are
suspected to get an easier ride.
Roughly speaking, the post-2012 negotiations resemble a kaleidoscope
image fractured into three parts.
In one part are the radicals, led by the European Union (EU), who want
Kyoto's successor to set ambitious, unambiguous targets for cuts by
They talk of a reduction of some 30 percent by 2020 compared to 1990
levels, a figure strongly opposed by other industrialised countries,
In another part are China and India, now major carbon polluters.
So far, they are sitting on their hands. They are waiting to see what the
industrialised countries will offer while ruling out targeted pledges on
their own pollution if to do so imperils their rise from poverty.
The third -- and possibly most intractable -- part of the kaleidoscope
image is that of the United States.
It, alone among the big polluters, opposes Kyoto (although it remains
part of the UNFCCC, the main arena), citing the Protocol's mandatory caps
and the fact that developing countries duck binding pledges of cuts.
So a big question is how to build a treaty with variable geometry,
enabling the United States to join the carbon cleanup club even if it
still opposes Kyoto-style obligations espoused by the others.
In this context, two meetings are scheduled that seek to blow away the
smoke obscuring the poker table.
The first will be in New York, where UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
will host a meeting of some 30 major countries on September 24, which
will be following by a General Assembly session devoted to climate
The other follows on September 27 and 28 in Washington, when US Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice will chair a meeting of 16 countries that
together account for some 90 percent of global emissions.
The US insists the Washington meeting simply aims to clarify matters so
that at least everyone knows who is offering what, and any deal will feed
into the UN process.
Even so, suspicions run deep among greens and in Europe that the US wants
to subvert the mandatory Kyoto approach and replace it with a voluntary,
The Washington conference "is in spirit an attempt to block" the Kyoto
process, according to an internal memo by a European government seen by
It calls on EU members to be "perfectly united in the face of the