Climate talks start with calls for new global deal
VIENNA (Reuters) - Climate negotiators from more than 150 nations assembled in Vienna on Monday with calls for a global deal beyond 2012 to replace the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol and include outsiders such as the United States and China.
"Climate change is already a harsh reality, a massive obstacle to development," Austrian Environment Minister Josef Proell told the opening ceremony at a meeting of more than 1,000 senior officials, activists and other experts.
"Climate change is a huge challenge that can only be dealt with at a global level," he said. "We do not have much time."
Activists from Greenpeace, who complain of the glacial pace of world climate talks, demonstrated outside the Vienna conference hall with a giant balloon and activists dressed up as giant eyes saying "the world is watching."
The Aug 27-31 Vienna meeting is meant to pave the way for a deal among environment ministers meeting in December in Bali, Indonesia, to launch formal 2-year talks on a broader successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which binds 35 industrial nations to cut emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.
The United States, the top emitter of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, is not part of Kyoto.
President George W. Bush said Kyoto was too costly and wrongly excluded 2012 targets for developing nations such as China and India. He has, however, signaled willingness to join in negotiating a new, long-term worldwide pact.
Yvo de Boer, the U.N.'s top climate official, said there were "many encouraging political signals building momentum for action on climate change" in recent months, such as Bush's pledge to seek "substantial cuts" in emissions.
U.N. reports this year have blamed humans for global warming over the past 50 years and forecast worsening disruptions from floods, droughts, heat waves and rising seas.
Proell, the Austrian host, pointed to monsoons in South Asia and forest fires in tinder-dry Greece as yet further signs of the type of weather that might become more frequent in future.
"Today the world's biggest problem is the problem of climate change," said Monyane Moleleki, Lesotho's environment minister, whose country faces worsening droughts.
Moleleki praised the European Union for saying that it would cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 20 percent by 2020 and said other nations should work out long-term goals.
But environmentalists said the world response was falling far short of the vows. Despite lofty promises by heads of state "when I look around on the ground here I get nervous," said Hans Verolme, climate expert at the WWF environmental group.
Bill Hare, of Greenpeace, said many countries were talking about a need for the Bali talks to agree a vague "road map" for working out new commitments. He said governments needed to agree a firmer "mandate" to negotiate legally binding commitments.