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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 December, 2004, 21:49 GMT
Climate talks bogged down in detail
By Tim Hirsch
BBC environment correspondent in Buenos Aires

Greenpeace activist in Bush mask at the global warming conference in Buenos Aires
UN jargon often makes little sense to those outside the process
As climate experts warn of ever more dire consequences from the impact of global warming, negotiators at the UN climate change conference in Buenos Aires are bogged down in arguments over seminar agendas and who gets to sit where in future discussions.

The annual talks of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have always shown a remarkable capacity to descend into seemingly endless discussion of process.

This is made utterly incomprehensible to outside observers by a special language of acronyms and jargon known only to the delegates.

It is common to overhear earnest conversations which go something as follows: "Did you hear the CDM SBSTA discussions on COP MOP 1? The G77 are worried about protocol issues in the convention - but we really have to de-link adaptation from response measures."

Occasionally someone is brave enough to sum up the proceedings in plain language.

Yvo de Boer, the urbane Dutch civil servant with impeccable English who has been heading the European Union delegation at this meeting, told one news conference: "We are talking about talks about talks."

Search for common ground

The talks in question centre on what happens after 2012, when the targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto agreement expire.

With that agreement finally coming into legal force in February - seven years after it was negotiated in Japan - many countries feel no time should be lost in discussing its successor.

A rice vendor in Beijing, China
China's staple diet will suffer from the effects of global warming
This is partly because the average emission cuts of 5.2% from industrialised countries are widely seen as a very modest start to a meaningful effort to reduce human interference with the climate.

The Argentine organisers of this conference have proposed a series of seminars in the course of 2005, ahead of more formal discussions in a year's time on longer-term action.

Pretty uncontroversial you might think, but government representatives have been struggling for more than a week to find common ground on the remit of the seminars, how many there should be and where they should take place.

With the US still resolutely refusing to take part in Kyoto, the Americans want the discussions simply to be a review of the action taken by governments to curb emissions.

Others, such as the EU, insist they must look ahead to the future.

That has not stopped environmental groups here from castigating the Europeans for "bending over backwards" to accommodate the Bush administration by proposing a format for the talks that would allow the US to be involved.

Likely impact

And the Americans have been complaining that they will be locked out of some of the formal meetings discussing the mechanics of implementing the targets set by Kyoto.

Because they have not ratified the protocol, they will be allocated "observer status" at these discussions.

US negotiator Harlan Watson bitterly complained that this would involve watching them by video link rather than being allowed to sit at the table.

Some of the other participants think this is rather like someone who did everything possible to wreck a party insisting on being given an invitation.

Amongst all this bickering, a report released by the European Climate Forum, with the backing of the leading insurance company Munich Re, listed some of the impacts likely to emerge if global temperatures were allowed to rise by more than 2C.

That could only be prevented with measures far beyond those being proposed.

The report estimates that a rise of between 2.5C and 3C could reduce rice yield in China by up to a fifth.

In Peru, the melting of Andean glaciers could threaten both the water supply of the capital Lima and power generation which is heavily dependent on hydro-electricity.

For the moment though, the talk is still about the talks about talks. And they keep talking.

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