Nineteen years after the world began taking climate change seriously, delegates from around the globe spent five days in Bangkok deciding what they would discuss at a year-end conference in South Africa.
They agreed to talk about their opposing views.
Delegates from 173 nations agreed that delays in averting global warming merely fast-forwarded the risk of plunging the world into “catastrophe.”
The delegate from Bolivia said the international effort, which began with a 1992 UN convention, has so far amounted to “throwing water on a forest fire”.
But the UN meeting in Bangkok, which concluded late on Friday after delegates cobbled together a broad agenda for the December summit, failed to narrow the deep divisions between the developing world and the camp of industrialised nations led by the US.
These may come to plague the summit in Durban.
Developing nations, pointing to the industrialised world as the main culprit behind global warning, want an international treaty to legally bind countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Washington and others reject it, focusing instead on building on the modest decisions made at last December’s summit in Cancun, Mexico.
The Durban agenda calls for discussion on both viewpoints.
“I believe we now have a solid basis to move forward collectively and that governments can deliver further good results this year, provided every effort is made to compromise,” the UN’s top climate change official, Christiana Figueres, said.
She expressed regret that the road to Durban was proving a slow one.
Although the Bangkok conference was not geared to tackle the core issues, some movement was at least expected in implementing decisions reached at Cancun.
These included the formation of a multibillion-dollar Green Climate Fund to help developing nations obtain clean-energy technology; setting up a global structure for these nations to obtain patented technology for clean energy; climate adaptation; and rounding out a plan to compensate poorer nations for protecting their climate-friendly forests.
Some deadlines for accomplishing these have already passed and it appears little of substance was accomplished in Bangkok, with that work being passed on to the next meeting set for June in Bonn, Germany.
Although also not a pledging session, there was no indication that nations were prepared, in UN parlance, to “raise their ambitions”, or reduce emissions of greenhouse gases above earlier pledges.
The current total pledges are deemed by the UN to fall way short of cuts required to keep temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels – an agreement reached in Cancun by 193 countries.
“We have regrettably spent the entire week negotiating the agenda,” said Dessima Williams from the Caribbean island of Grenada.
“This is unacceptable, especially so for small islands that are running out of time, if we are to avoid damage from rising sea levels and other climate change impacts. We cannot go on negotiating forever.”
But that’s what seems to be on the cards.
Developing countries are keen to preserve the landmark 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the only international existing agreement on reducing emissions.
It will expire at the end of 2012 and some countries have signalled that they would not make further pledges.
The EU is undecided and the US, which rejected Kyoto, favours each country setting its own targets for emissions, but has not ruled out an international pact if all major economies, including China, now the world’s number one emitter, are parties.
Environmental activists at the conference mostly backed the developing world position and, noting the unfolding nuclear plant disaster in Japan, urged a global move away from both fossil fuels and nuclear power toward clean, renewable energy sources.
“For five years, rich countries have been ducking and weaving over their commitment to legally binding targets. The Bangkok meeting has finally given us clarity on countries’ real intentions. Most of them have been paying lip service to being serious about tackling climate change,” said Asad Reham of Friends of the Earth.
Bolivian delegate Pablo Solon said even reaching the 2°C goal would prove “unsafe for millions of lives and livelihoods across the world”.
Citing figures from the UN and Stockholm Environment Institute, he said that to meet even that target, the world would need to cut emissions by 14 gigatons each year by 2020. At best, he said, countries currently had pledged to reduce emissions by 8.7 gigatons.
Under the 1992 UN treaty, the world’s nations promised to do their best to rein in carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases emitted by industry, transportation and agriculture. – Sapa-AP