Time is running out for climate deal, UN warns world leaders

Talks in Thailand long deadlocked

Children participating in a Greenpeace event presented a gift yesterday to Yvo de Boer, executive secretary with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Children participating in a Greenpeace event presented a gift yesterday to Yvo de Boer, executive secretary with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. (Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/ AFP/ Getty Images)
By Michael Casey
Associated Press / September 29, 2009

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BANGKOK - The United Nations warned world leaders yesterday they have only 70 days to reach a new deal to limit global warming, while environmentalists pointed to the deadly floods in the Philippines to illustrate the already devastating impact of climate change.

Only hours after negotiations began, rich and poor nations were flinging their usual rebukes at one another for failing to do their part to reach a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Talks have been deadlocked for months over the industrial countries’ refusal to commit to sufficiently deep cuts or provide billions of dollars to poor nations to help them adapt to the impacts of climate change and transition to a low-carbon economy.

The major developing countries like India and China, in turn, have refused to agree to binding targets altogether and are leery of demands that any of their commitments be monitored and verified as part of any agreement.

“Time is not just pressing. It has almost run out,’’ UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said, with a clock nearby showing there were 70 days until world leaders are scheduled to meet in Copenhagen to finalize a pact.

“As many leaders have said, there is no plan B,’’ he continued. “If we don’t realize Plan A, the future will hold us to account for it.’’

Some environmentalists tried to raise the sense of urgency by pointing to the weekend tropical storm that set off the region’s worst flooding in more than 40 years in the Philippines and left 140 dead.

It offered, they said, a glimpse into the kind of turbulent weather that could be unleashed by warming temperatures.

“We are asking the negotiators to look outside these walls. They should realize that it is the people’s lives at stake,’’ said Dinah Fuentesfina, a Philippine activist from the Global Campaign for Climate Action Asia.

The need for a deal was also driven home by a UN report last week that showed climate-related events such as the melting of glaciers and polar ice sheets and the increasing acidification of the oceans were happening much faster than scientists had predicted even two years ago.

The two weeks of UN climate talks in the Thai capital, the second to last meeting before Copenhagen, have drawn some 1,500 delegates from 180 countries who are tasked with boiling down an unwieldy, 200-page draft agreement to around 30 pages that will be presented to ministers in Denmark.

Connie Hedegaard, the Danish minister for climate and energy whose country will host the talks in December, told delegates that the world was watching and urged them to build on the momentum that came out of last week’s UN climate summit where 100 world leaders pledged their support for an agreement.

At the New York summit, President Obama and President Hu Jintao of China - whose countries are the world’s two biggest emitters, each accounting for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas pollution - vowed tough measures to combat climate change.

Hu said China would generate 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources within a decade, and for the first time pledged to reduce the rate by which its carbon emissions rise. He did not give specific targets.

Most countries agree that the rise in average global temperatures must not exceed 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels - a threshold beyond which it is believed serious climate changes would ensue. Temperatures have risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since the 19th century.

But there is no consensus on how to stop the warming

Most industrialized nations have offered to cut emissions 15 to 23 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, falling short of the 25 to 40 percent cuts scientists and activists say are needed to hold off warming of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

But the United States has offered much lower targets, with a House of Representatives bill proposing to reduce emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels - only about 4 percent below 1990 levels - by 2020.

The Senate has yet to take up the climate bill.

De Boer insisted a deal could still be reached in Copenhagen, but the traditional divisions sprang up quickly on the first day as poor countries repeatedly called for deeper emissions cuts from rich nations.

“Emission reductions of at least 40 percent or 45 percent below the 1990 baseline by developed countries are required and must be announced without further delay,’’ the Indian delegation said in a statement.