(AFP) – Dec 15, 2007
NUSA DUA, Indonesia (AFP) — World climate negotiators set a 2009 deadline Saturday for a landmark treaty to fight global warming after two weeks of intense haggling led to a climbdown by an isolated United States.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who flew to the Indonesian island of Bali for a late appeal for flexibility, praised the deal as a "pivotal first step" to confront climate change, "the defining challenge of our time."
Following gruelling all-night talks, the conference of 190 nations finally launched a process to negotiate a new treaty for when the UN Kyoto Protocol's commitments expire in 2012.
It comes after a year of stark warnings from Nobel-winning scientists, who say millions of people will be at risk of hunger, homelessness and disease by 2100 if temperatures keep rising at current rates.
The United States, the only major industrialised nation to reject the Kyoto treaty, reached a compromise with the European Union to avoid mentioning any figures as a target for slashing greenhouse gas emissions.
The deal instead only makes an indirect reference to scientists' warnings that the world must sharply cut back its emissions to prevent what could be a catastrophic rise in temperatures.
But after the summit went into an unscheduled 13th day of talks, the United States said it would not accept the statement as it wanted developing countries such as fast-growing China to make tougher commitments.
The senior US negotiator, Paula Dobriansky, said she had heard "many strong statements from many major developing country leaders on a greater role in helping to address urgently this global problem."
It "doesn't seem it's going to be reflected in our outcome here in the declaration," she said, explaining why the United States would reject the draft.
Dobriansky was loudly booed by other delegations, and a US environmental activist representing Papua New Guinea said to rousing cheers: "If you're not willing to lead, please get out of the way."
After repeated verbal lashings, Dobriansky again took the microphone and said that Washington would "go forward and join consensus," to the cheers of the conference.
German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a strong critic of US President George W. Bush's climate policy, said he was ready to ask through his mobile telephone for Chancellor Angela Merkel to intervene with the White House.
"I had already typed the SMS after Dobriansky's first statement but then I was able to cancel it," Gabriel said.
"In the end, nobody wanted to have a failure," including the United States, Gabriel said.
"We have achieved more than we could have expected previously, but it is less than what is needed to meet the urgency of the problem."
However, Washington later said in a statement that it had "serious concerns" about the deal, including the role of major developing countries in cutting greenhouse gases.
While there were positive aspects to the conference conclusions, the "United States does have serious concerns about other aspects of the decision as we begin the negotiations," the White House said.
Fighting climate change will require commitments not only from developed countries but from larger developing countries as well, it said, reiterating its stance.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was more positive, calling the agreement "a vital step forward for the whole world". He added: "I am delighted that after two weeks of intensive talks the world's nations have agreed on a Roadmap to achieving a new global framework for tackling climate change. The Bali Roadmap is just the first step."
And German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Roadmap "opens the way to real negotiations on effective measures to protect the climate, and for binding targets" on reducing CO2 emissions.
"Of course, the road to an agreement to succeed Kyoto is still paved with obstacles," she said, adding that she was "convinced" that Bali will bring real progress.
"The joint stance of the Europeans was an important foundation for this good result. Without it, success at Bali would not have been possible."
The agreement came after extraordinary scenes in which UN chief Ban jetted in for a last-ditch appeal, the UN's exhausted climate chief nearly broke down in tears and conference chair Indonesia apologised for a disastrous procedural mix-up.
"What we witnessed today was an incredible drama," said Alden Meyer of the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists.
"I've been following these negotiations for 20 years and I've never seen anything like it."
Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said the deal showed global commitment and broke down the divide between countries with Kyoto obligations and those without.
"In that sense, what we're seeing disappear here today is what I would call the Berlin Wall of climate change," he said.
Hans Verolme of conservation group WWF accused the world of bowing to US pressure and removing a scientific punch needed to fight global warming.
But he also said the Bali talks would inspire environmentalists and activist nations until the end of Bush's mandate in January 2009.
"We have learned a historic lesson. If you expose to the world the dealings of the United States, they will ultimately back down."
Bush has argued that Kyoto is unfair as it does not require fast-growing emerging economies such as China, the second largest emitter after the United States, to meet targeted emissions curbs.
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