Bali talks end in dismal failure


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

December 16, 2007

Nations Set Timetable to Revive Climate Treaty

NUSA DUA, Indonesia ‹ Delegates from nearly 190 countries wrapped up two weeks 
of intense and at times emotional talks here on Saturday with a two-year 
timetable for reviving an ailing, aging climate treaty.

The deal came after the United States, facing sharp verbal attacks in a final 
open-door negotiating session, reversed its opposition to a last-minute 
amendment by India.

"We've listened very closely to many of our colleagues here during these two 
weeks, but especially to what has been said in this hall today," Paula 
Dobriansky, who led the U.S. delegation, told the other assembled delegates. "We
will go forward and join consensus."

The Bush administration had earlier made a significant change in policy, ending 
its long-held objection to formal negotiations on new steps to avoid climate 
dangers. This time, the United States agreed to set a deadline for an addendum 
to the original treaty, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was 
signed by President George H.W. Bush during his final year in office in 1992 but
never ratified by the United States.

The agreement notes the need for "urgency" in addressing climate change and 
recognizes that "deep cuts in global emissions will be required."

Still, it does not bind the United States or any country to commitments on 
reducing greenhouse pollution.

"It starts a negotiation that allows but doesn't require an outcome where the 
U.S. takes a cap," or a national limit on greenhouse gases, said David Doniger, 
a former climate negotiator in the Clinton administration and the climate policy
director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a private Washington-based 
environmental group.

The agreement sets the stage for some commitments by developing countries to 
reducing greenhouse emissions. But it includes no language making such steps 

U.S. negotiators here had pushed hard to get developing countries, including 
emerging economic giants like China and India, to agree to seek cuts while 
retaining flexibility on how to make them. The last-minute dispute Saturday was 
over the wording of commitments by developing countries.

The overall agreement, if completed by 2009, would also ensure continuity for 
parties to the Kyoto Protocol, which took effect in 2005 and is the only 
existing addendum to the original climate treaty. The Kyoto pact limits 
emissions by three dozen industrialized countries but has been rejected by the 
United States under President George W. Bush.

Its emissions caps expire in 2012, and adherents, particularly European 
countries, were eager to start the process of setting new limits to sustain 
markets in emissions credits ‹ a keystone of the protocol. The carbon market 
allows rich countries to receive credit toward their targets by investing in 
climate-friendly projects in poor countries.

The Bush administration is increasingly under pressure domestically to take 
action on global warming. Climate legislation is gaining momentum in the 
Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress, and presidential candidates from both 
parties are generally more engaged on the subject.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Bush administration's contention 
that carbon dioxide was not a pollutant and ordered it to re-examine the case 
for regulating carbon dioxide from vehicles ordered it to review its 
environmental policies. Dozens of states are moving ahead with caps on 
greenhouse gases.

The differences in philosophy at the meeting were striking and fundamental. 
European Union negotiators said they favored specific government-imposed caps on
emissions and wanted industrial countries to lead the way.

The United States favored relying on "aspirational" goals, research to advance 
nonpolluting energy technologies and a mix of measures, including mandatory 
steps like efficiency standards for vehicles and appliances ‹ but all set by 
individual nations, not mandated by a global pact.

Developing countries, a vaguely defined group that includes countries as 
different as China and Costa Rica, have long insisted that rich countries, which
spent more than a century adding carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases to
the atmosphere, should take the first step.

The tenor of the conference improved markedly after European nations, frustrated
with the United States, threatened on Thursday to boycott talks proposed by the 
Bush administration in Hawaii next month that would be separate from process 
here, sponsored by the United Nations.

Germany's environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel, who led the criticism of the 
United States earlier in the week, said Friday: "The climate in the climate 
convention has changed a little bit. It's true that during the last night and 
during the negotiations America was more flexible than in the first part of the 

We very much appreciate this. Not only the Americans but also other parties."

Reuters reported Friday that the European Union had dropped a central demand 
that the guidelines for the agreement should include a reference to tough 
emissions targets for wealthy countries to meet by 2020.

The mood here shifted after a speech Thursday by Al Gore, the former U.S. vice 
president who shared the Nobel Peace Prize this year for helping to alert the 
world to the danger of global warming.

After declaring that the United States was "principally responsible for 
obstructing progress" in Bali, he urged delegates to agree to an open-ended deal
that could be enhanced after Mr. Bush left office in January 2009.

"Over the next two years the United States is going to be somewhere it is not 
now," Mr. Gore said to loud applause. "You must anticipate that."

Developing nations, notably China and India, stuck with their longstanding 
refusal to accept limits on their emissions, despite projections that they will 
soon become the dominant sources of climate-warming gases.

Separately, participants agreed on a system that would compensate developing 
countries for protecting their rain forests, a plan that environmentalists 
described as an innovative effort to mitigate global warming.

Rain forest destruction is a major source of carbon dioxide, and living rain 
forests, according to recent research, play an important role in absorbing the 
gas. Precisely how countries with large rain forests, like Indonesia and Brazil,
would be compensated has not been fully worked out.

United Nations officials said part of the financing would come from developed 
countries through aid and other financing would come from carbon credits traded 
under the Kyoto pact.

Thomas Fuller reported from Nusa Dua, and Andrew C. Revkin from New York. Peter 
Gelling contributed reporting from Nusa Dua, and Graham Bowley from New York.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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