Major polluters to meet in Paris


The world's biggest carbon polluters - 16 economies which, together, account for 80 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions are meeting in Paris on Thursday and Friday of this week, taking the next steps in a journey that may eventually lead to a new pact for tackling climate change.

The 'Major Economies Meeting' (MEM) is the third in a series launched last September by President George W. Bush. He wants to identify a long-term overall goal for global-warming gases and sketch ways for curbing pollution through a voluntary approach, embracing big energy-burning industries and smart technology.

Bush's initiative at first ran into deep suspicion from European countries and developing countries - some of whom eyed it as an attempt to subvert the UN process, which requires tougher, binding commitments from advanced economies and help for poor ones. Now, however, those fears appear to have evaporated.

Some scientists estimate as few as eight years remain before worldwide emissions have to peak and then taper sharply downwards, to avert the worst damage to the planet's climate system. The over-arching forum for addressing this crisis is de Boer's UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - which, in Bali, agreed to craft a new deal by the end of 2009.

However, progress in the UNFCCC is agonisingly slow, hampered by a thicket of national interests. Should rich nations, which gorged on fossil fuels to power their rise to prosperity, be the ones to pick up the tab, as developing countries argue? Or, as Bush argues, should the payers include China, India and other emerging giants, which are fast becoming the major polluters of tomorrow?

On the sidelines of the UNFCCC process, smaller-scale initiatives have proliferated like hothouse vegetation to try to speed things along. There are now seven such parallel processes - ranging from the Group of Eight (G8) to something called the 'Midnight Sun Dialogue'. Common to all of them is the United States, which is the world's biggest single polluter but - alone among the advanced economies - has refused binding emissions curbs.

No-one is expecting a breakthrough at the Paris MEM, but sources say it could help take a machete to the negotiation undergrowth.

European suspicions over the Bush initiative have been replaced by surprising warmth towards its format. Informality and plain talk among a small group of participants are a refreshing change from jargon, posturing and points-of-order at global meetings.

The MEM is working on a 'leaders' declaration' to be published at the G8 summit in Japan in July and on a raft of recommendations to be handed to the UNFCCC - US diplomats say.

Taking part in Paris are - Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the United States. The institutions of the United Nations and the European Union are also represented.