All roads in the "Bali Roadmap" for new climate negotiations lead to one address and one date: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave and Jan. 20, 2009.
That's when a new occupant of the White House will be sworn into office, and when a fresh US team, with what many expect to be a new attitude, will take up the negotiating mandate issued here on Saturday at the end of the two-week UN climate conference.
For seven years, these annual sessions have witnessed a long-running diplomatic feud between the administration of US President George W. Bush, dead set against international obligations for industrial nations to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, and most of the rest of the world, which favors them.
The faceoff played out again here in Bali this past week, when the US delegation blocked an effort to insert into the "roadmap" an ambitious suggested negotiating goal for the next two years -- emissions cuts of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
The "emissions cutters" were spurned again, in a repeat of what has happened consistently since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which mandated relatively small reductions but was rejected by the US.
Time now may be on the emission cutters' side.
From California to New England, US state governments are enacting their own caps on carbon dioxide and other industrial and transportation gases blamed for global warming. Many US cities have adopted Kyoto-style targets, trimming emissions via "green" building codes, conversion of municipal fleets to hybrid vehicles, energy-saving lighting and other measures.
Judging from recent opinion polls, natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the southeastern US drought and the California wildfires apparently are awakening more and Americans to the potential perils of climate change.
"The majority of the United States is with you," California's environment secretary, Linda Adams, told the hundreds of Bali conference delegates last week. "We know that climate change affects all of us."
'A NEW DIRECTION'
In Washington, too, there's movement after years of inaction. A US Senate committee has approved the first legislation mandating caps on greenhouse gases and sent it to the full Senate.
"What you see is a new direction coming," said David Doniger, a veteran climate policy analyst with the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council. "And this new direction is a very clear indication of where our policy is going in the future."
That policy will be set primarily by the new president, and the Democratic presidential candidates and at least two of the Republicans -- Senator John McCain and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee -- have endorsed mandatory emissions caps.
To many at Bali, the US election calendar dominates the climate calendar. Even the diplomatically cautious and precise Yvo de Boer, UN climate chief, managed to hint that delegates should bide their time in the coming negotiations next year and in 2009.
"I really hope that that is a discussion" -- about emissions reduction levels -- ``taken up toward the end of that two-year debate," he told reporters.
NOT A SURE THING
But decisive US action, even after Bush, is far from assured.
"The real problem is Congress," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, climate activist, told a Bali gathering this past week. "They're unwilling to face any issue that has costs or antagonizes any group of voters."
In fact, the emissions-caps bill may face trouble in the full Senate.
Even swift action may come too late for some.
Rising seas, expanding from warmth and from the runoff of melted land ice, are encroaching on low-lying island states, especially in the western Pacific. In these islanders' minds, the roadmaps and new directions were needed a decade or more ago.
"We are very concerned that there is so little progress," Kete Ioane, environment minister of the Cook Islands, told the Bali assembly days ago.
"We are merely asking for our survival, nothing more, nothing less," he said.
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