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December 17, 2007
Volume 85, Number 51
p. 9

Negotiations

Bali Climate Meeting Turns Up The Heat

United Nations talks result in a push for global action

Erika Engelhaupt

As The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, drew to a close, negotiators' main goal was to establish a "Bali Roadmap," an agenda for negotiating a new international agreement to succeed the Kyoto protocol in 2012. But the question of binding greenhouse gas emissions targets bedeviled the proceedings, with the U.S., Japan, and Canada opposing language that would encourage developed countries to cut emissions by 25 to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020, a range backed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Gary Braasch
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Australian Prime Minister Rudd addresses the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali.

"Once numbers appear in the text, it prejudges the outcome" of future negotiations, said U.S. senior climate negotiator Harlan L. Watson.

The same countries were also accused by environmental groups of blocking progress on funds that would help developing countries import clean technologies, such as renewable energy, and adapt to climate change, for example, by building levees. Nevertheless, parties did reach agreements on adaptation funds that could enable future projects.

Meanwhile, IPCC scientists made perhaps their most compelling statement yet on climate change during the Bali meeting. "There is no time to lose," according to a declaration signed by more than 200 of the scientists that calls for global emissions to start declining within 10 to 15 years and to continue dropping to at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2050.

"IPCC does not advocate policy" according to its mandate, said one of the statement's signers, climate scientist Richard Somerville of the University of California, San Diego. He said he and other IPCC scientists who have spent years studying climate change have been biting their tongues on what to do about it.

As the conference opened on Dec. 3, Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd signed the Kyoto protocol as his first act in office. The move left the U.S. as the only developed nation that has not ratified the Kyoto protocol.

"We expect all developed nations to embrace a further set of binding [greenhouse gas] emissions targets," Rudd said in his opening address to the conference. He pledged to cut Australia's greenhouse gas emissions voluntarily by 60% below 2000 levels by 2050.

As the meeting drew to a close, the European Union (EU) was squeezing the U.S. into a corner over voluntary aspirational goals for climate change, which the U.S. wants. EU negotiators talked of pulling out of President George W. Bush's next major economies meeting to be held next month in Hawaii, but the U.S. delegation said it was sticking to its position.

"Realistically, it may be too ambitious" to set guidelines for greenhouse gas emissions reductions this year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admitted to reporters at a Dec. 12 press conference. In the end, many of the participants hope Bali will be remembered as a turning point for moving beyond debates over science to the hard work of climate change action.


Erika Engelhaupt is an associate editor at Environmental Science & Technology, an ACS publication.

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ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society

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