Climate Change Talks Grow in Importance
Saturday, April 28, 2007; 4:39 PM
-- As the world warms and scientists' warnings grow urgent, climate negotiators are counting down toward make-or-break talks later this year, hoping for progress on a long-term deal to sharply reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
Experts are beginning to fear, however, that as time runs down the best that can be hoped for may be an extension of the relatively weak Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012. The alternative is a world without any carbon-reduction rules at all.
The year's bad news on climate change is coming in installments.
In February, a U.N.-sponsored scientific network reported that unabated global warming would produce a far different planet by 2100, from rising seas, drought and other factors. In early April, the scientists said animal and plant life was already being disrupted.
In the third installment, coming Friday in Bangkok, Thailand, the authoritative panel is expected to say the world could still head off severe damage if all countries act urgently, with the best policies and technology, to rein in carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions _ an improbable scenario.
There are signs of movement. In March, the European Union formally committed to at least a 20-percent cut in emissions, below 1990 levels, by 2020. The Democrats newly in control of Congress are pushing for mandatory caps on U.S. emissions. China is talking more seriously about controls.
"There's a lot happening. Whether that translates into a change in negotiating positions is a complicated story," said Leon Charles, a veteran negotiator for the Caribbean nation of Grenada who will have a lead role in the upcoming talks.
The key complication is a "you first" standoff between the United States, on one side, and China and the developing world on the other.
President Bush, who is expected to veto any Democratic effort to reduce carbon emissions, rejects the Kyoto Protocol and its mandatory cutbacks, complaining they would hobble the U.S. economy and should have applied to China, India and other industrializing countries that were exempted because they're poorer.
China, meanwhile, isn't expected to submit to an international regime unless the U.S. takes on a major commitment. It points to the fact that its per-capita emissions of carbon dioxide, byproduct of power plants, automobiles and other fossil fuel-burning sources, has stood at less than one-sixth the American per-person emissions.
"Prematurely" committing to mandatory cutbacks could keep China from climbing out of its poverty, the Beijing government said in a climate report April 23.
The Kyoto pact, a 1997 annex to a 1992 U.N. climate treaty, requires 35 industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by, on average, 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. But specialists say 50-percent reductions will be needed to stabilize concentrations of the global-warming gases in the atmosphere.