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Climate Change News: Bali Forum Backs Climate 'Road Map'

U.S. Accedes on Aid Pledges, Wins Fight to Drop Specific Targets for Emissions Cuts

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 16, 2007; A01

NUSA DUA, Indonesia, Dec. 15 -- Delegates from nearly 190 countries emerged from a final 24 hours of bruising negotiations Saturday with an agreement on a new framework for tackling global warming, one that for the first time calls on both the industrialized world and rapidly developing nations to commit to measurable, verifiable steps.

The deal, which will form the basis for a two-year, U.N.-sponsored process aimed at forging a binding international climate pact by the end of 2009, could transform the way rich and poor nations work together to preserve a rapidly warming Earth, observers said. But it also postpones many tough decisions and provides more incentives than penalties when it comes to addressing global warming.

The consensus document was accepted by acclamation following an acrimonious confrontation between the U.S. delegates and leaders of developing nations, who bluntly accused Washington of pressing them for commitments while refusing to make its own. Finally, after a succession of delegates lambasted the American position, the U.S. delegation acceded to language pledging industrialized countries to provide quantifiable technological and financial aid to less well-off nations, including the economically burgeoning China, India and Brazil.

In a session marked by high drama and temporary setbacks, the developing nations also agreed to take specific steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions with the assistance of wealthier nations.

"Bali has delivered what it needed to do," U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said in a final news conference Saturday night. "That road forward is ambitious, it is transparent, and it is flexible."

Bush administration officials, who fought to keep mentions of specific emissions targets out of the document, said they were pleased with the progress that had been made. The agreement will guide negotiators in their quest to produce an accord outlining how deeply the industrialized countries should cut their emissions between 2012 and 2016, after commitments made under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol expire. The United States never accepted that pact.

"We, in coming here to Bali, have not foreclosed options," said Paula J. Dobriansky, U.S. undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs. "We have our work cut out for us. There's a real need to look at the developed countries and the developing countries, especially the major emerging economies, and pull together on behalf of the planet."

The consensus among the delegates here, however, came about only after two weeks of tense and emotional discussions that included last-minute exhortations by former vice president Al Gore and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as well as a final confrontation in which the developing nations took turns chastising the United States for not, in their view, doing its part.

Despite the difficult bargaining that lies ahead to produce an actual treaty, several participants said the conference's success in reaching a compromise showed that politicians across the ideological and geographical spectrum no longer feel they can afford to ignore public concern over global warming.

"As we saw in the room today, the political price for blocking things has come up in recent months," said Connie Hedegaard, the Danish climate and energy minister, whose government will host the 2009 treaty talks.

Among other things, Hedegaard was referring to the moment when the Bali session nearly collapsed after Dobriansky told delegates that the United States was "not willing to accept" language calling on industrialized nations to deliver "measurable, reportable and verifiable" assistance. Her comments sparked a stunning round of boos and hisses from the audience and sharp rebukes from representatives of developing countries.

Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa's minister of environmental affairs and tourism, called Dobriansky's comments "unwelcome" and questioned why Washington was not doing more after leaders from emerging economies had dropped their resistance to taking measurable and verifiable steps to reduce their emissions.

"It has never happened before," van Schalkwyk said of his and other developing countries' willingness to be monitored. "A year ago it would have been unthinkable."

In rapid succession, an array of developing nations reprimanded the Americans.

"If you cannot lead, leave it to the rest of us. Get out of the way," declared Kevin Conrad, Papua New Guinea's ambassador for climate change.

In many ways, the Bali "road map" agreement marks a turning point in how the North and South will seek to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions, participants and observers said. Rapidly industrializing nations such as China and Brazil pledged to account for their global warming contributions as long as developed nations provide them with clean energy technology and help bolster their ability to respond to climate change.

By contrast, the Kyoto Protocol exempted emerging economies from any climate obligations, even though they are poised to overtake industrialized nations in greenhouse gas emissions within a matter of years.

"What we've seen disappear today is what I would call 'the Berlin Wall of climate change,' " the United Nations' de Boer said. "This document opens up the possibility of countries who are seeing their economies grow rapidly move into a new spectrum level of commitment, supported by developed countries."

The agreement also establishes a mechanism for giving tropical nations financial compensation for preserving their rain forests and calls for expanding financial aid for countries struggling to adapt to climate change.

"We want to do our part," said Conrad, of Papua New Guinea, which has led the fight for a program to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. "It's just a matter of how do we do our part, in an equitable way."

While the Bush administration made some concessions, it also scored a key victory by eliminating explicit language calling on industrialized countries to cut their emissions 25 to 40 percent, compared to 1990 levels, by 2020, a high priority for the European Union. Eventually the Europeans relented, settling for a footnote in the document's preamble that refers to a section in the 2007 scientific report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). That section suggests that cuts that deep will be required to keep Earth's average temperature from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.

Hans Verolme, who directs the World Wildlife Fund's climate change program, said the compromise produced a consensus, but "in the process, we lost substance" in specifying how much developed nations must cut emissions.

James L. Connaughton, who participated as chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said reducing developed countries' emissions by even 25 percent over the next 13 years was not achievable. "We want to be ambitious, but cuts that deep, that fast, are beyond reach."

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