UN climate talks agree on agenda for 2009 pact

Updated: 2008-04-05 13:56

BANGKOK, Thailand - Climate negotiators agreed on an ambitious agenda Saturday for talks they hope will lead to a historic global warming pact, overcoming a heated dispute between Japanese and developing countries how to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The schedule came after five days of marathon talks in Bangkok and requires negotiators to settle contentions issues including how countries will cut their emissions and rich countries will help the poor adapt to climate change impacts and shift to cleaner energy sources.

"The train to Copenhagen has left the station," UN Climate Chief Yvo de Boer said, referring to the city that will host the 2009 talks. "Not only do we have the certainty that critical issues will be addressed this year, we now have the bite-sized chunks which will allow us to negotiate in an effective manner."

Delegates also welcomed the agreement but warned significant disagreements remained especially over demands from the United States and Japan for developing countries to accept binding targets as part of a pact to stabilize greenhouse gases in the next 10 to 15 years and cut them in half by 2050.

"We can live with the work program but the negotiations ahead will be tough, very tough," said Prodipto Ghosh, a member of the Indian delegation. "There are wide divergences between different groups over the nature of the conclusions to be reached."

Talks had bogged down earlier in the day because of developing nations' opposition to early discussion of a Japanese proposal to set industry-specific emissions reduction targets. Developing nations want rich countries to agree to set national targets first.

Representatives from 163 countries met in Bangkok for the first negotiations on a warming pact meant to take effect after 2012. Scientists say quick action is needed to prevent the worsening floods, droughts and violent storms that would impact billions of people worldwide in a warming world.

The schedule discussed Friday postponed in-depth discussions of the Japanese so-called "sectoral approach" proposal until August to satisfy critics in developing nations. Instead, other issues -- such as rich countries' efforts to help poor nations adapt to rising temperatures -- will be discussed first.

Delegates also deleted from an earlier draft a call for discussion of what the US emissions reduction targets might be in the new agreement, delegates said, leaving talk of that for 2009 - when a new American president will be in office. The government of US President George W. Bush has been critical of deep emissions reductions.

"It's just a political call of when you deal with the things that are most difficult," said Ian Fry, representative of the island nation of Tuvalu.

The draft schedule also called for discussions of the transfer of clean technologies from rich countries to developing nations at the June meeting in Bonn. A subsequent meeting in Ghana in August would address the Japanese proposal, as well as deforestation.

The Japanese plan triggered strident opposition earlier in the day from China, India and other developing countries represented by the G-77 grouping. They argued it was an attempt to shift the burden of responsibility for climate change from rich to poor nations.

Tokyo hopes for an agreement on energy efficiency targets for specific industries across national boundaries. Proponents say it would preserve competition, while rewarding nations like Japan that already have high levels of energy efficiency.

Poorer countries, however, fear it would favor nations with a technological edge by allowing them to make fewer cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. They objected to holding in-depth discussions on it in June, as called for in an earlier draft work plan.

"We would have very strong reservations," Su Wei, a Chinese delegate who is responsible for the government's climate change policy, said earlier in the day. "It is intended to substitute for targets and would shift the burden on developing countries, which are not very advanced in energy efficiency technology."

Ghosh dismissed the Japanese proposal as a "huge protectionist scam," while the G-77 refused to include any reference the sectoral approach in its work plan.

Japan, which is struggling to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, is campaigning to put its approach at the center of the future warming agreement, which is to take effect when the Kyoto pact ends in 2012.

Kyoji Komachi, who headed the Japanese delegation, said Japn was not using the proposal to force developing countries into the same emissions targets as wealthy industrialized nations. But he was happy with the final document.

The other sticking point in the talks has been the US insistence that discussions over actions it will take to reduce greenhouse gases coincide with discussions about what developing nations will do. Developing nations argue that US and other industrialized countries should take the first steps in cutting emissions, since they are responsible for the bulk of today's emissions.

The new global warming pact is meant to succeed the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, which requires 37 industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

The US is the only industrialized nation not to have ratified Kyoto, but it agreed with nearly 200 other nations at a conference in Bali in December to negotiate a new agreement by the end of 2009.

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