Thu, Dec 13, 2007 - Page 1 News List

UN leader backs away from firm emissions target

AP , BALI, INDONESIA

A call for rich nations to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 may be "too ambitious" to include in an international statement on climate change, the UN chief said yesterday, strengthening a US-led drive to remove it from the text.

Drafts of a final statement at a UN global warming conference this week have included guidelines for industrialized countries to consider cutting emissions blamed for rising temperature by between 25 percent and 40 percent.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, however, said such goals -- demanded by the EU and developing nations -- might have to wait for subsequent negotiations, though at some point targets for emissions cuts would be necessary.

"Realistically, it may be too ambitious" to set guidelines now, Ban told reporters, while urging Washington to be flexible. Later he added: "Practically speaking, this will have to be negotiated down the road."

The two week conference, which wraps up tomorrow, brings together delegates from nearly 190 nations tasked with launching negotiations leading to an international accord to succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.

Talks picked up pace yesterday with the arrival of ministers and heads of state who urged the world in a series of speeches to quickly impose deep cuts in emissions to head off scientific predictions of rising seas, worsening droughts and famines, and melting ice-sheets.

The EU and developing nations strongly favor specific target ranges for rich countries' emissions, which supporters say are needed to avoid temperatures rising above 2?C over preindustrial levels.

The US, however, has argued strenuously at Bali that including such language in the final document now would prejudice negotiations over the next two years.

"The reality in this business is that once numbers appear in the text, it prejudges the outcome and will tend to drive the negotiations in one direction," said Harlan Watson, a lead US negotiator.

meaningless

Many negotiators at Bali have said that a top priority was getting an agreement that the US could work with. But German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel -- whose government has pledged to cut emissions by 40 percent by 2020 -- said the Bali conference would be meaningless without clear targets.

"I do not need a paper from Bali in which we only say, `OK, we'll meet next year again,'" Gabriel said. "How can we find a roadmap without having a target, without having a goal?"

Speakers yesterday laid out their vision that wealthy nations, as the prime drivers of global warming, should make the first cuts in emissions and help poorer countries develop in a clean way with technology and assistance. Speakers also called on quickly developing nations, such as China, to rein in high levels of pollution.

The most poignant call for action came from island nations, which face possible extinction by rising seas.

"Today, the catastrophe is looking large on the horizon," Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said. "Sea-level data over the past decade confirms our worst fears. Without immediate action, the long-term habitation of our tiny islands is in serious doubt."

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