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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 December 2007, 13:07 GMT
Big steps ahead on the Bali roadmap
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

Unep chief Achin Steiner in car. Image: AFP/Getty
The UN has put low-carbon technologies on show at the talks
"You can think of the Kyoto Protocol as a 10-year-old child," mused Ichiro Kamoshita, environment minister of the country where the complex and controversial climate treaty was signed a decade ago.

"You have had only 10 years to raise that child, so you cannot be disappointed because it's not what you expected after only 10 years."

For a moment this week, negotiators at this year's round of UN climate talks in Bali were able to pause and contemplate the treaty, which their forerunners' compiled in the 1997 Kyoto winter.

For some, that meant celebrating a pioneering attempt to curb the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

For others, it meant mulling the fact that Kyoto has been a disappointment, failing to realise its parents' ambitions; yet others, including, one suspects, the Bush administration and many OPEC members, would have cursed the fact that the child was born at all.

Then it was back to the bigger business of Bali; drawing up a blueprint for the next generation of climate treaty, the progeny of Kyoto, bigger, bolder and more comprehensive than its parent.

The difficulty is, you may get something as full of holes as Swiss cheese
Philip Clapp, Pew Environment Group
It is a task likely to engage ministers and their bureaucrats for most of the days and nights that remain at the talks.

Can they tie up the sheaf of loose ends that remain in time for them to take a farewell dip in the aquamarine Balinese seas on Saturday morning?

"If you put your toe into the water of the officials' meeting you'd be pessimistic," says the UK's climate change minister Phil Woolas.

"But we know there's room for manoeuvre behind the scenes; and instinct tells you that when the ministers get involved, they will bring a bit more flexibility and more possibilities for horse-trading."

We will see.

Developing issues

Of the issues that remain, by far the most important is whether ministers can agree a "Bali roadmap"; and if they can, what it will look like.

The EU and its bullish allies would like to leave these talks with a roadmap committing governments to finalising a Kyoto successor agreement within two years.

Phil Woolas. Image: BBC
There is still suspicion that industrialised countries will try to bounce developing countries into firm targets that they can't accept
Phil Woolas
They want it to endorse the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) conclusion that global greenhouse gas emissions should peak and begin to fall within 10-15 years. They want industrialised countries to commit to emissions cuts of 25-40% from 1990 levels by 2020 (the EU has already committed to 20% unilaterally), and the major developing countries to agree in principle to firm targets in the future.

The 25-40% target remains in the draft text for the moment, though the US, Canada, Australia and Japan want it taken out.

The issue of targets for developing countries is even more contentious.

The UN climate convention is clear that nations should commit to greenhouse gas reductions appropriate to their state of development. Until now, that has meant targets for the rich, and no targets for anyone else.

But the term "developing country" encompasses states with a vast range of economic development and political power.

South Korea, for example, boasts a per-capita national income above $17,000, about 50 times greater than pertains in Togo.

"There is growing recognition among developing country delegates that 'differentiation' does not only mean between developed and developing but within the developing group," says Philip Clapp, deputy managing director of the Pew Environment Group.

"And there is a clear commitment on part of all countries, most notably China, to move forward and get a blueprint that will include some form of participation, though not targets, among at least a small group of developing countries."

Sunbathers. Image: AFP/Getty
The intricacies of climate change have passed holidaymakers by
But countries such as India, whose ministers have spoken publicly against any notion of accepting targets, may find it politically difficult to shift their position.

"There is movement, in the sense that a number of them are committing themselves to the process," notes Mr Woolas, "and in that respect it's implicit that we will over the next two year negotiate gradual targets and differentiated targets (for them).

"But there is still a huge amount of suspicion that industrialised countries will try to bounce them into firm targets that they can't accept; and then at the far extreme you've got the Saudis, for example, who don't want to commit to anything."

Dark forest

While discussions on carbon caps look likely to go to the wire, one contentious issue has been resolved with agreement on the management of the Adaptation Fund, designed to provide money to help poorer countries protect themselves against climate change impacts.

What seemed from the outside a trivial issue was a major irritant to some developing countries, which saw the rich West trying to control "their" money. The deal sees the establishment of an independent board with representation from developed and developing countries, and from all regions.

Deforestación (Imagen: EIA/Telapak)

A much bigger issue, though, is the scarcity of money available for adaptation globally - measured in tens of millions of dollars, whereas estimates of the amounts needed run into tens of billions.

While Kyoto provides small sums of money into the Adaptation Fund, a successor treaty ought logically to leverage far more from the international carbon market.

The problem is that the carbon market is not yet big enough to generate significant adaptation funding. And without a wider and deeper set of emissions targets that produce a meaningful carbon price, the market is likely to remain too small to produce adequate funds.

Many developing countries, including conference host Indonesia, would like more funding for protecting their forests. Bali delegates have several options for achieving this, but again there is suspicion to overcome; over the long history of UN climate talks, trees have come to bear a lot of political baggage from their branches.

Targeting America

And what of the US, traditional scourge of those who would pursue a swift path to decarbonisation?

Delegates say the Bush administration's representatives have been constructive, even emollient. But its opposition to binding emissions targets remains.

John Kerry. Image: AFP/Getty
John Kerry was one of the US opposition politicians at the talks
A contingent from the Democrat-controlled and pro-targets Congress had to be downscaled at the last moment owing to the scheduling, ironically enough, of key energy debates in Washington.

Nevertheless, former presidential candidate John Kerry came and spoke, and Al Gore will be around until the end bearing the laurels of his Nobel Peace Prize.

Anyone who missed the signs that the Democrats plan to be in the White House in little over a year, and that once there they plan a stark policy reversal on climate, cannot have been looking very hard.

But for the moment, the administration's continued resistance to further targets remains perhaps the biggest issue of all for those chasing the elusive poster-child of the Kyoto successor.

Philip Clapp believes there is still everything to play for as the ministers put their heads together for the rest of the week.

"I think most major governments are so committed domestically to getting an agreement to start negotiations to end in 2009 that it's difficult for them to back away," he observes.

"The difficulty is that in order to do that, you may get something as full of holes as Swiss cheese; and there's an awful lot of work left for the ministers to do in the high-level segment."

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