The first formal talks in the long process of drawing up
a replacement for the Kyoto climate change pact opened in
Thailand on Monday 31 March with appeals to a common human
purpose to defeat global warming.
"The world is waiting for a solution that is long-term and
economically viable" - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said
in a video address to the 1,000 delegates from 190 nations
gathered in Bangkok.
The week-long meeting stems from a breakthrough agreement
in Bali last year to start negotiations to replace Kyoto,
which only binds 37 rich nations to cut emissions of greenhouse
gases by an average of five percent from 1990 levels by 2012.
UN climate experts want the new pact to impose curbs on all
countries, although there is wide disagreement about how to
share the burden between rich nations led by the United States
and developing countries such as China and India.
No major decisions are likely from the Bangkok talks - which
are intended mainly to establish a timetable for more rounds
of talks culminating in a United Nations Climate Change conference
in Copenhagen at the end of next year. "We see this as very
much a process-oriented meeting" - chief U.S. climate negotiator
Harland Watson told reporters before the opening ceremony.
However, environmental groups are keeping a close eye on
Bangkok for signs of sustained commitment by rich and poor
countries, alike, to minimising global warming by curbing
emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. "It's
the first test of whether the goodwill and good intentions
that were present in Bali are still there when they they get
down to the hard negotiations" - said Angela Anderson of the
Washington-based Pew Environment Group.
Although the negotiations are likely to be tough and tortuous,
a series of UN climate change reports last year highlighted
the need to curb global warming. One report in particular
said it was more than 90 percent certain that human actions
- mainly burning fossil fuels - were to blame for changes
to the weather system that will bring more heatwaves, droughts,
storms and rising seas.
One major issue to be tackled is the reluctance of big developing
nations such as India and China to agree to any measures that
might curb their rapid industrialisation. Negotiators will
also have to work out how to deal with the United States -
the only rich nation not to have signed-up to Kyoto - given
that President George W. Bush will be leaving the White House
after November's election.
Bush pulled the United States out of Kyoto in 2001, saying
the pact would hurt the economy and was unfair since it excluded
big developing nations from committing to emissions cuts.
The White House has since moderated its stance by saying it
would accept emissions targets if all other big emitters follow
suit based on their individual circumstances.
This has tempered criticism, but green groups and many poorer
nations say they don't expect much progress on a replacement
climate pact until a new US administration takes office in
January 2009. All three main presidential candidates are greener
than Bush and back a cap-and-trade system to encourage business
to curb carbon emissions.
The United Nations wants the new treaty to be in place by
the end of 2009 to give companies and investors as much advance
knowledge as possible of coming changes - and national parliaments
time to ratify it before 2012, when Kyoto expires.