U.S. Strategy Succeeds in Bali

Demonstrators continue to gather in Bali, Indonesia, outside the U.N. conference on climate change. (By Binsar Bakkara -- Associated Press)
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 13, 2007

BALI, Indonesia, Dec. 13 -- U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon conceded Wednesday that the United States had succeeded in achieving one of its key objectives at the climate conference here, blocking a proposal that called on industrialized nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40 percent by 2020.

Having jettisoned the idea of incorporating specific emissions targets in the framework that will guide international climate talks over the next two years, participants were hoping to find other ways to make meaningful progress here in the two-week-long meeting of nearly 190 nations.

Ban, who told reporters that the initial U.N. negotiating proposal submitted to the conference might have been "too ambitious," said he and others would work to ensure that any climate pact finalized in 2009 will be much more specific than the consensus document expected to come out of Bali.

"Practically speaking, this will have to be negotiated down the road," he said, adding that the proposal to cut emissions by at least 25 percent over the next dozen years reflected the current scientific consensus. "There needs to be a target, whether it's a short-term, medium or long-term" goal.

The Bush administration's victory, which came even as a succession of foreign ministers took the podium to call for bolder action to fight global warming, sparked criticism from developing countries that are predicted to feel the greatest effects from a changing climate.

Robert Aisi, Papua New Guinea's U.N. ambassador, said he understood why U.S. officials were reluctant to accept binding emissions goals unless rapidly industrializing nations such as China, India and Brazil also commit to concrete efforts. The United States, as well as Canada and Japan, are seeking firmer emissions commitments from such countries.

But many Western nations, Aisi added, are overlooking their historical role in producing greenhouse gases as they industrialized. "The U.S. is saying, 'Why should we restrict ourselves?' " Aisi said in an interview. "We're saying, as developing countries, 'You bear a responsibility.' "

Danish Climate and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard said Thursday that European Union members would continue pressing to include a range of emissions targets as part of a final framework document.

"We all came here with the expectation that something has changed in American politics, which to some extent would be reflected here in Bali. It's still sort of strange to see the American delegation is not particularly engaged a lot in the debate, to put it diplomatically," Hedegaard said in an interview. "We think it's time for the U.S. to engage a little more in trying to come up with solutions."

At a news conference Wednesday, however, Paula Dobriansky, U.S. undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs, said, "We want to launch a process that is open and does not predetermine or preclude options."

Dobriansky emphasized that the United States was not alone in resisting future emissions targets. Countries such as Canada and Russia have allied themselves with the Bush administration on the issue.

Even as negotiators wrangled behind closed doors over what specifics could make it into a final resolution, political leaders took the podium to describe ways in which global warming is transforming the global landscape. Australia's newly elected prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who last week ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol as his first official act, told delegates that climate change is no longer an abstract concept in his country. "It is an emerging reality," Rudd said.

The Kyoto treaty, which expires in 2012, committed industrialized nations to making emissions cuts that many found difficult to achieve, and the Bali meeting is the first step in developing a successor to it. The United States rejected the treaty.

With the goal of specific emissions cuts off the table, negotiators were working to resolve outstanding issues for the consensus document. While a number of delegates backed the concept of payments for developing countries that protect their tropical rainforests, the proposal stalled after U.S. delegates inserted language raising the question of how land use in both industrialized nations and the developing world would affect deforestation.

"We don't want land use in there, so it's got to go," said a delegate from a developing country, who asked not to be identified for fear of jeopardizing the talks. "Anything the U.S. proposes, people are going to be suspicious about."

Several countries and nongovernmental organizations are using the Bali talks to unveil environmental initiatives they hope will lay the groundwork for future efforts even if negotiators remain at loggerheads. Norway announced it will devote $500 million to help preserve tropical forests that help mitigate the buildup of greenhouse gases, while nine other nations -- Germany, Japan, Britain, Finland, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Australia and the Netherlands -- joined with the Nature Conservancy to create a $150 million fund designed to achieve the same goal.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company