U.N. Climate Talks Stagnate Despite Public Worries
OSLO -- Governments are making scant progress towards extending a U.N. pact to fight global warming despite mounting public concern about climate change and U.N. warnings it poses a threat as great as war, experts say.
"We're not seeing governments saying 'yes, we'll make new commitments'," one U.N. official said of negotiations sponsored by the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat in Bonn.
The world's top climate scientists raised pressure for action with a report last month which said it was more than 90 percent certain that human activities led by burning fossil fuels are causing global warming.
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N. climate panel, said it was still hard to predict the political impact of the report, which also warned of more droughts, floods and rising seas in coming centuries.
"I'm reminded of what Chairman Mao said when he was asked what he thought of the influence of the French Revolution on the world: 'It's too early to tell'," he told Reuters.
The world's environment ministers have been widely predicted to agree a mandate to start negotiations to extend the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, the U.N. plan to fight global warming, beyond 2012 at a December meeting in Bali, Indonesia.
But even that may be in doubt. Many companies want clarity about what the rules will be after 2012 to let them make long-term investments, for example in new factories.
"A mandate is an optimistic goal," said Harald Dovland, Norway's chief climate negotiator.
"No one wants to talk about commitments or mandates," a U.N. official said. "Agreement on a mandate at Bali now looks like the best case outcome."
Still, public pressure is rising. And Germany, the current president of both the European Union and the Group of Eight industrialised nations, is making global warming a top issue.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday that dangers posed to humanity by war were "at least matched" by the threats of warming. But he has rejected a call by U.N. environment agencies to hold a summit to address the threats.
The big problem for the U.N. climate negotiations is that the top emitters of greenhouse gases from human actitivities -- the United States, China, Russia and India -- are not among big enthusiasts for Kyoto led by European nations and Japan.
"I think that the (U.S.) agenda is shifting -- not into loving Kyoto but into acknowledging that things have to be done and maybe also that binding targets are an acceptable tool," said Danish Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard.
Many U.S. legislators, including some Republicans, are pushing U.S. President George W. Bush to drop opposition to caps on emissions -- the basis of Kyoto which binds 35 rich nations to cut emissions to 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.
Bush has shown no sign of wavering in his belief that Kyoto would harm the U.S. economy and wrongly omits 2012 targets for developing nations. Poor countries in turn feel no pressure to act when the world's richest economy is outside Kyoto.
A first test of whether there is new impetus in fighting climate change will come at an EU summit next week. Leaders will discuss a plan, opposed by France, to set a mandatory goal of getting 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.
"There is a level of public attention to the climate issue that we have never seen before," said Jennifer Morgan of the British-based environmental think-tank E3G. "The first test will be the EU heads of state."