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Deadlock Stymies Global Climate Talks

By Thomas Fuller and Peter Gelling (The New York Times) - December 12, 2007

As a United Nations conference on global warming here entered its final stretch, the United States and the European Union remained deadlocked on Tuesday on whether countries should commit now to specific emissions reductions in an agreement that may not be finalized for two more years.

Over the weekend, officials from the United Nations, backed by the European Union and many developing countries, offered a draft plan for talks over the next two years, including a statement that dangerous warming can be avoided only if industrialized countries cut emissions by 2020 to levels 25 to 40 percent below those of 1990.

But on Tuesday the United States remained firmly opposed to such language.

This year’s studies by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that centuries of warming, rising seas and species extinctions would probably result unless there were sharp curbs in climate-warming emissions within a few decades.

“Logic requires that we listen to the science,” said Stavros Dimas, the European Union’s environment commissioner. “I would expect others to follow that logic.”

The Bush administration opposes including hard targets at this stage in the talks. Other countries, including Japan and Canada, are beginning to side with the United States on the need for any new climate agreements to include meaningful steps by fast-growing countries like China and India. And calls for concrete limits have consistently been refused by those nations.

“We don’t think it’s prudent or reasonable to start off with some set of numbers,” Harlan Watson, the United States’ chief negotiator on climate change, said here on Monday, in the last public statement from the American delegation. “That’s what the negotiations are going to be for.”

The meeting in Bali is part of negotiations over ways to invigorate a faltering 1992 treaty, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, and to replace the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 addendum that requires three dozen industrialized countries to cut emissions below 1990 levels by 2012. That agreement is also in trouble, with many adherents failing to stay on track toward achieving cuts.

The dispute over targets reflects the growing cleavage between the Bush administration and many other developed countries represented here that say numerical targets are necessary to add urgency and structure to future negotiations.

“The situation is so desperately serious that any delay could push us past the tipping point, beyond which the ecological, financial and human costs would increase dramatically,” said Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general.

Countries have a choice between a comprehensive agreement or “oblivion,” he said.

The main purpose of the two-week meeting, which runs through Friday, is to establish a plan for negotiating a global agreement to address the warming of the planet. Delegates from 190 countries are taking part.

There appears to be consensus that 2009 will be chosen as the deadline for the talks, but many disagreements remain over such issues as whether cuts in emissions should be mandatory or whether China, which has passed the United States as the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, should be obligated to make cuts similar to those of developed countries.

Delegates say that if they fail to overcome American resistance to specific cuts at this meeting, they may prevail after President Bush leaves office in 2009.

In the meantime, the Bush administration is moving ahead with parallel talks over new “aspirational,” nonbinding goals for limiting climate dangers. Representatives from the world’s largest countries, in economic terms, have agreed to meet in Hawaii in late January under that separate process.