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Archive for Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tough bargaining still ahead at U.N. climate talks

December 12, 2009

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— After a week of U.N. climate talks, some money is finally on the table and a draft agreement has been circulated. Now the really hard bargaining begins.

The draft proposal was sent around Friday to the 192-nation conference, although it set no firm figures on financing or cutting greenhouse gas emissions. And the negotiations on sharing the burden are likely to still go down to the wire and await the arrival of the world’s leaders next week.

To top it off, the United States and China — the world’s top two carbon polluters — even got into a battle of words.

“It’s time to begin to focus on the big picture,” said Yvo de Boer, the top U.N. climate official. “The serious discussion on finance and targets has begun.”

A much-disputed 188-page text was whittled down to a mere seven pages of stark options on how much global warming is acceptable and how deeply nations must individually and collectively cut carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Options ranged from nearly eliminating global emissions to cutting them in half by 2050.

The document forced countries to abandon long-held posturing on secondary topics and focus on crunch issues. Starting today, environment ministers will be able to go through the 46 points of text one by one, checking off some and leaving the toughest for the 110 heads of state and government arriving at the end of next week.

Many countries voiced reservations about the structure of the document or some of its clauses. “But that’s all right. That’s what negotiations are all about,” de Boer said.

Todd Stern, the special U.S. climate envoy, called the text “constructive” but singled out the section on helping poor countries lower their growth of carbon emissions as “unbalanced.” He said the requirements on industrial countries were tougher than on developing nations and the section was not “a basis for negotiation.”

Environmental groups welcomed the text as a step forward, although they lamented the absence of what they considered essential elements.

“It’s a good pointer to a number of issues to be dealt with at the ministerial and even the head-of-state level over the next week,” said Kim Carstensen of the environmental group WWF. “We’re disappointed it does not include any clarity on what the legal outcome will be.”

It said all countries together should reduce emissions by a range of 50 percent to 95 percent by 2050, and rich countries should cut emissions by 25 percent to 40 percent by 2020, in both cases using 1990 as the baseline year.

So far, industrial nations’ pledges to cut emissions have amounted to far less than the minimum.

After years of being bogged down in detail, the draft highlighted the broad goals the world must achieve to avoid irreversible change in climate that scientists say could bring many species to extinction and cause upheavals in many parts of the Earth.

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